Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, offered a change to the proposed abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights that would preclude restrictions that could jeopardize the life of mothers or block abortion to victims of rape or incest. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — An amendment to the Kansas Constitution will be placed on August 2022 ballots statewide giving voters an opportunity to overturn a state Supreme Court decision declaring the constitution grants women the right to end a pregnancy.
The Kansas Senate approved the proposed amendment 28-11 on Thursday by the two-thirds majority necessary to place it before voters. Members of the Kansas House crossed that hurdle Jan. 22 on a party-line vote of 86-38. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has no veto authority of proposed constitutional amendments.
In 19 months, a simple majority of people participating in the 2022 primary election will decide whether to add the abortion amendment to the state’s foundational document. A robust campaign to influence voters is expected.
“We are here by a dangerous precedent by our Supreme Court. Kansans don’t want an unregulated abortion industry,” said Louisburg Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner, who objected to arguments of amendment opponents. “We all know that when we discuss issues related to abortion, emotions run high. Often time we have an interesting mixture of truth, half-truth and falsehood.”
Language of the amendment provoked outrage among opponents because it would make clear the Legislature might restrict abortion in Kansas even in instances when the mother’s life was in danger or in cases of incest or rape. Proponents of the amendment argued every abortion restriction in state law was in jeopardy of being struck down in wake of the Supreme Court’s activist intervention, while skeptics also portrayed it as a bold step toward an outright ban on abortion in Kansas.
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, said the abortion amendment was neither reasonable nor necessary. She said the proposed amendment “weaponized” fear. She also said Kansas lawmakers would have “blood on our hands” if the U.S. Supreme Court were to reverse Roe v. Wade and the Kansas Legislature erased the legal right to abortion.
“Bans on abortion lead to unsafe, unregulated procedures,” Sykes said. “Bans force physicians to forgo their oaths and allow their patients to die.”
She also said bad-faith actors would spend millions of dollars misleading the voting public about consequences of the abortion amendment.
The April 2019 ruling by the Supreme Court in Hodes and Nauser v. Schmidt concluded the right to personal autonomy embedded in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights offered women the authority to determine whether to continue a pregnancy. The court ruling was in response to a challenge of a 2015 state law banning dilation and evacuation abortion, a procedure used in 95% of abortions in the second trimester.
“The Value Them Both amendment protects the bipartisan-supported limits on the abortion industry that protects both women and their babies, said Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist with Kansas for Life. “Thank you to the state senators who backed the measure and struck down extreme amendments that would leave vulnerable women behind.”
Kansans for Life and other anti-abortion organizations were alarmed by the Supreme Court’s decision, which didn’t preclude abortion regulation, because the justices pointed to use of the “strict scrutiny” standard that mandated any regulation reflect a compelling government interest to be viewed as constitutional.
The court’s precedent puts at risk abortion restrictions that include clinic sanitation, parental consent and public funding of abortion, said Sen. Kellie Warren, a Leawood Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Pat Pettey, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas, proposed adjustment of the constitutional amendment to make certain abortion was within reach of women in jeopardy of dying during pregnancy and to women subjected to trauma of rape and incest. She said rejection of her suggestion put Senate Republicans on record as backing an outlandish form of government intervention into lives of Kansans.
In 2020, a constitutional amendment on abortion cleared the Senate with the two-thirds majority, but Republicans in the House were humbled by failure to hit that benchmark.
Champions and dissenters of the Value Them Both amendment questioned why the state would wait until August 2022 to settle the question. Advocates of the amendment believe a primary election provided the better opportunity to pass an abortion amendment, because Republican turnout could overwhelm voting by Democrats. On the other hand, putting an abortion amendment on the November 2022 general ballot could be a drag on Kelly’s re-election.
Sen. John Doll, a Garden City Republican, urged Senate peers to move the statewide vote up to November 2021 because passage would expand opportunity for the Legislature to more aggressively control abortion. His tweak was rejected in line with an effort to keep the amendment uniform with the version adopted by the House.
Opposition to a quicker statewide vote on the abortion amendment exposes lawmakers who aren’t fully committed to “life” because some of those same people refuse to vote for expansion of Medicaid health services or to follow guidance on wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
“I want to save lives,” said Doll in his speech urging support of a statewide vote nine months earlier. “I don’t want people calling me and calling me a murderer or a baby killer.”
Kelly said prior to the Senate’s vote on the amendment that she had always believed every woman’s reproductive decisions should be left to her, her family and her physician.
“While I know others do not share my belief,” Kelly said, “I don’t think those supporting this amendment are aware of the consequences it will have for the state of Kansas and our reputation.”
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said House Concurrent Resolution 5003 was an extreme measure intended to create a path toward a complete and total ban on abortion in Kansas.
“Stripping the rights of bodily autonomy is an all-out attack on women with no exceptions for the horrors of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother,” he said.
When the measure was debated by the House, the Republican majority defeated four amendments proposed by Democrats. The list included a plan to hold the statewide vote at the general election in November 2022 and the primary in August 2021. Also blocked was an amendment to retain a right to abortion for a woman who could die by carrying the pregnancy to term or if the women were victims of rape or incest. In addition, the House deflected a request to include repeal of the state’s death penalty because “life before conception and the life of the living are potentially conflicting issues.”
Rachel Sweet, regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said Kansans deserved the right to make personal, private medical decisions without government interference.
“We are deeply disappointed that this flawed and dangerous constitutional amendment, which will seize the right to abortion from Kansans and make it subject to the Legislature’s whims, passed the Senate,” she said. “The politicians and organizations behind this constitutional amendment have clearly said that they believe all abortions should be banned and illegal, no matter what. We will fight this all the way to the ballot box.”
Brittany Jones, director of advocacy for Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said the organization looked forward to a “vigorous campaign” on the amendment.
“We are thankful for the opportunity that the people of Kansas have to stand up for mothers and babies,” Jones said.
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