Opinion

My grim prediction for Kansas: Abortion banned within a year if voters don’t show up

April 18, 2022 3:33 am

A pro-choice activist holds up a wire clothes hanger during a demonstration at the federal building plaza on Sept. 27, 2021, in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Within the next year, the Kansas Legislature will pass a full ban on abortion, without exceptions for rape or incest. Gov. Derek Schmidt will delightedly sign it and rhapsodize about our state’s culture of life. A safe and common women’s health procedure and those performing it, along with the women themselves, will be criminalized.

This will happen unless Kansas voters across the political spectrum grasp the gravity of this situation and act.

Look south to Oklahoma. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a full ban on abortion on Tuesday of last week.

“We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country. We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma,” he said, according to CNN.

Look east to Kentucky. A GOP-controlled legislature overturned a democratic governor’s veto on Wednesday to effectively end abortion access, immediately.

The bill was “likely unconstitutional,” said Gov. Andy Beshear, but lawmakers with an eye on a U.S. Supreme Court likely to overturn Roe v. Wade acted anyway.

Look southeast to Florida. On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill outlawing abortion after 15 weeks.

“This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, and Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, made the case for passage of an amendment to the Kansas Constitution declaring no fundamental right to abortion existed in the state. The Kansas Supreme Court issued a decision in 2019 declaring otherwise. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)
In January 2021, Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, and Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, made the case for passage of an amendment to the Kansas Constitution declaring no fundamental right to abortion existed in the state. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

This new batch of laws comes after Mississippi and Texas made similar moves. Supreme Court justices are mulling the Mississippi legislation and may use it as the vehicle to eviscerate abortion rights in the United States. If the court takes that step, abortion will likely become illegal in 26 states, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

Where does Kansas fit into all of this? In August — four months from now — voters will decide on an amendment to the Kansas constitution to determine whether our constitution protects women’s right to access the procedure. The amendment itself doesn’t say whether health care providers in the state can offer abortions.

But it will allow the Legislature to pass a ban.

Remember the scenario outlined at the beginning of this column? Only a few pieces need to fall into place to make it a reality.

First, the amendment passes with a majority of the vote. While opponents including Planned Parenthood have dug in for battle, aiming to educate Kansans about what’s at stake, no one should underestimate the difficulty. Abortion opponents went all out to place the amendment on the primary ballot, which usually sees a lower turnout and more ideologically extreme voters.

Second, Derek Schmidt will need to win the gubernatorial election in November. While his victory isn’t assured, as the Republican candidate in bright-red Kansas, he certainly has a decent chance. His campaign website notes that he supports “protecting traditional values like religious freedom, the rule of law, life, freedom to speak openly, and the Second Amendment.”

Finally, the House and Senate will need to pass some sort of abortion ban. Without Laura Kelly in office wielding a veto, Republicans will need a simple majority in both chambers to make that happen. Does anyone seriously think they wouldn’t hit that mark in a post-Roe environment?

That suggests that Kansans, irritated by a lingering pandemic and persistent economic strain, will want to punish Democrats. Gov. Laura Kelly and the handful of Democrats in Kansas government may well pay a high price for their national party’s failings.

– Clay Wirestone

This year is looking like a banner one for Republicans across the nation. With gas prices up and inflation surging, President Joe Biden has seen dire polling as he grapples with global turmoil.

That suggests that Kansans, irritated by a lingering pandemic and persistent economic strain, will want to punish Democrats. Kelly and the handful of Democrats in Kansas government may well pay a high price for their national party’s failings.

In other words, these three conditions are connected.

The amendment passing, Schmidt winning and the Legislature passing a ban could all be enabled by a sour public, unaware of the forces they’re putting into motion. And Republicans have no motivation to make clear what’s happening, either: A 2018 Fox News survey showed that 86% of Kansans don’t believe the procedure should be totally illegal.

Yet the anti-abortion movement in Kansas has built power over the decades. Legislators know what’s expected of them. If Roe is overturned and activists want a ban, it will happen.

We can see the movement in other states.

We can see where this is going in ours.

Women who need the procedure either will be forced to travel long distances outside of Kansas or obtain back-alley abortions at grave threat to their health and wellbeing. Doctors who perform a safe medical procedure will be driven out of business.

As I wrote back in September, this isn’t a drill. The signs have only grown more ominous, the stakes have only heightened. Votes in August and November will determine the trajectory of reproductive health in Kansas for decades to come. Depending on the outcomes, a full abortion ban will be in place before you know it.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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