TOPEKA — Republicans bolstered by conservative gains in the Legislature plan to place a constitutional amendment on abortion before voters on the 2022 primary ballot.
The controversial decision to delay a popular vote on the measure could jeopardize progress in the Legislature, where the proposed amendment failed a year ago in part because of the timing of when it would go before voters.
The alternative to scheduling the amendment vote for an August primary, where turnout favors conservative Republicans, would be the general election ballot or scheduling a special election.
Rep. Susan Humphries, a Republican from Wichita, said anti-abortion allies chose the 2022 primary to provide ample time to convince voters to support an amendment that would make clear the Kansas Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to an abortion.
“It’s not a ban,” Humphries said. “What are we really doing here? We’re wanting to preserve safeguards for women. The more time we have to educate the state, the better.”
The proposed amendment is a response to a 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court to strike down a state law banning a second-trimester abortion procedure. The court determined the Kansas Constitution protects the right to personal autonomy, which extends to a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy.
Proponents of the amendment expressed optimism Tuesday for securing the necessary support of two thirds of the lawmakers in both the Senate and House to place the amendment before voters. Nearly identical legislation fell four votes shy of passing the House last year.
A hearing on the amendment is scheduled for Friday in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.
Republicans fear the Kansas Supreme Court decision can be used as a basis to strike dozens of anti-abortion laws passed by the GOP-led Legislature over the past two decades, or even allow for abortions funded through Medicaid or other publicly funded programs.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg, said Kansas voters in the 2020 election cycle endorsed candidates who vowed support for the abortion amendment.
“They want assurances that their hard-earned tax dollars — and let’s remember that Kansas is among the highest in the nation for paying taxes — they do not want their tax dollars to be used to fund abortions,” Baumgardner said. “They also want safeguards — safeguards brought by abortion clinic regulations — to remain in place. I believe that this is the only way it is going to be possible to protect tax dollars from being used on abortions.”
The Legislature in recent years has passed regulations that range from imposing a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion to requiring certain measurements for hallways. In 2019, Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill that that would have required doctors administering an abortion pill to tell women the process can be reversed between the first and second dose, even though the effectiveness and safety of the reversal isn’t supported by science.
Rachel Sweet, a policy director for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said abortion facilities can be regulated like any other health care provider. The proposed amendment, she said, is about ending the right to an abortion in Kansas.
She said the addition in September of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court increases the likelihood that the high court will overturn its decision in Roe v. Wade, leaving the issues for individual states to decide.
“It is not hyperbolic to suggest that there is going to be a time in the near future when the federal protections for the right to abortion no longer exists,” Sweet said. “It’s coming.”
House Minority Leader Dinah Sykes said she is concerned the proposed amendment would give the Legislature the power to deny women access to an abortion as a result of incest or rape, or to protect the life of a mother.
“Last session, we heard promises that future bills will never use the power this amendment grants,” Sykes said. “Unless that is made part of the language of the amendment, that should not be considered a guarantee. Kansans deserve transparency and the truth.”