TOPEKA — A Kansas community organizer is calling for a boycott of businesses tied to Republican politicians in wake of the Kansas Legislature’s endorsement of a constitutional amendment clarifying women in the state don’t have a right to abortion services.
The Kansas Senate affirmed a previous vote by the Kansas House to place on ballots in August 2022 the amendment to the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The amendment would reverse a Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 establishing that women had the right to make decisions about continuation of pregnancies.
Legislators opposed to the constitutional amendment said passage by Kansas voters would set the stage for an end to legal abortion even to save the life of the mother or for women who were victims of rape or incest.
The amendment, which cleared the Senate 28-11 and the House 86-38, was viewed by supporters as necessary to preserve decades of abortion regulations from judicial overreach.
Teresa Delgado, a community organizer from Hutchinson who says she is leading a coalition dedicated to empowering marginalized Kansas, was alarmed by the prospect of increasingly severe limitations on abortion in Kansas. The boycott is a way of drawing attention to potential changes in state law that could include a prohibition on abortion, she said.
“Banning abortions opens them up to banning or restricting birth control as it can cause miscarriage which would be considered murder,” Delgado said. “If an abortion procedure is executed in Kansas, one can potentially be charged and convicted of murder.”
In August 2022, all registered voters — Republicans, Democrats and the unaffiliated — will have an opportunity to express views on the abortion amendment. Unaffiliated voters will be limited to the amendment, while partisans will be able to also vote on primary candidates. A simple majority of those participating in the ballot question will determine whether the constitution is altered.
A Catholic voice
Chuck Weber, who works on behalf of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said the Value Them Both amendment was an essential rebuttal to the state Supreme Court. The court’s overarching decision in a case challenging a 2015 state law banning dilation-and-evacuation abortion was structured to remain in place even if Roe v. Wade was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It is a remarkable step forward protecting mothers and their babies,” Weber said. “Now, an even more monumental struggle begins — fighting back the lies and distortions of the abortion industry that is already fully engaged in a campaign of distortion and disinformation. Without Value Them Both abortion is virtually unlimited and unregulated in Kansas.”
In the opinion issued by the state Supreme Court two years ago, the majority concluded the Bill of Rights allowed a woman to make decisions “regarding her body, health, family formation and family life — decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.” The opinion said the state could infringe upon this right in terms of pregnancy only when a compelling government interest existed and if the action taken was narrowly tailored.
In aftermath of the Senate’s vote on Thursday, Senate President Ty Masterson joined GOP colleagues who celebrated the political coalition that delivered the necessary two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate on behalf of the amendment. In 2020, the measure cleared the Senate but not the House. The August and November elections last year in Kansas favored conservatives and helped eradicate legislative obstacles to the abortion amendment.
“A monumental day for both women and the unborn in Kansas,” said Masterson, an Andover Republican. “As a result of this historic action, the people of Kansas will now have the opportunity to right the wrongs of the Kansas Supreme Court ruling.”
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, who carried the abortion measure on the Senate floor, said outcome of the 2020 elections could be viewed as a public mandate for continuation of laws that addressed clinic sanitation and safety standards, parental consent for minors seeking abortion, informing women to potential health risks, bans on late-term abortion and use of tax dollars to pay for abortions.
“As a result of the Kansas Supreme Court ruling, these protections are under threat,” she said. “Now, the people of Kansas will have the opportunity to preserve these lifesaving limits for women and the unborn.”
Ballot box test
Democrats at the statehouse derided potential placement of House Concurrent Resolution 5003 within the state’s constitutional framework because it would strip women of rights to bodily autonomy.
“We can and we must beat this at the ballot box,” said Rep. Lindsay Vaughn of Overland Park. “Women deserve equal protection under the law, and I am confident in my fellow Kansans, that we will fight for justice, equality and freedom like we have since 1861.”
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, the Democrat from Wichita, said GOP House members said during floor debate an objective of the amendment was abolition of abortion in Kansas. He said refusal of House and Senate supporters of the amendment to include exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of a mother was “testament to how extreme this constitutional amendment really is.”
Champions of the abortion amendment established a dichotomy allowing proponents to claim moral superiority over legislators attempting to address complicated realities faced by everyday Kansans, said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes of Lenexa.
Sykes said if Kansans really valued lives of women, children and infants they would insist the Legislature provide universal early childhood education programs that radically improve a child’s chances of succeeding mentally, emotionally and economically. In addition, she said, politicians who embrace sanctity of life in terms of abortion should be consistent by voting to expand health care under Medicaid to as many as 165,000 vulnerable Kansans.
“Instead, we are weaponizing fear and emotion to control our fellow Kansans,” Sykes said. “This is a mistake and we will regret this politically craven vote.”
In the 7-1 decision by the state Supreme Court, the majority pointed to a section of the Bill of Rights that declared people possessed “equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The high court’s bottom line: “We are now asked: ‘Is this declaration of rights more than an idealized aspiration? And, if so, do the substantive rights include a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy?’ We answer these questions, ‘Yes.’ ”
Correction: Teresa Delgado is no longer affiliated with the Justice Initiative Youth Council, as stated in an earlier version of this story. She is building a new coalition.