Overturn of Roe v. Wade raises stakes for Kansas abortion rights battle in August

By: - May 3, 2022 4:50 pm

A leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion reversing Roe v. Wade sets the stage for a high-stakes vote in August on a constitutional amendment removing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The stakes for the August vote over a Kansas constitutional amendment on abortion access were made clear by the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion striking down federal abortion protection rights.

The draft opinion rejecting the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is not final and does not necessarily set in stone the opinion of Supreme Court justices. If the draft opinion becomes official, Kansans will still have abortion rights under the state constitution.

However, the so-called Value Them Both amendment approved by the Legislature last year would erase this right if Kansans approve the change at the polls in August.

The amendment is a response to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said the right to personal autonomy in the Kansas Constitution applies to a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. The ruling stemmed from a 2015 lawsuit after the Legislature enacted a ban on dilation and evacuation, a procedure used for 95% of patients who terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester.

Abortion rights advocates said the procedure provides the safest medical care, while opponents called it barbaric and inhumane.

In a statement, the Value Them Both Coalition supporting the August amendment argued even with the nation’s highest court weighing in, Kansas laws are “among the most extreme in the nation.”

“If Kansans want to stop this, they must vote YES,” the statement said.

Should the amendment fail, abortion will remain legal in Kansas regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion. If the amendment is approved and Roe v. Wade is overturned, the Kansas GOP legislative supermajority is expected to pursue abortion bans similar to other Republican-led states.

A bill introduced earlier this year in the Legislature would do just that, except those performed to save a fetus or remove a dead fetus after a miscarriage or stillbirth. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and abortion would carry a 20-year prison sentence, among the most severe criminal penalties in the state.

“It is clear that the amendment proponents will push for a total ban on abortion as soon as possible — and with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the pregnant person — which is why it is imperative that Kansas’ constitutional protection for abortions be protected,” said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, of the Wichita-based Trust Women.

Some states already have abortion bans in anticipation of the ruling, like Arizona and Wyoming, whose laws will go into effect if the Supreme Court reverses the Roe v. Wade ruling. Earlier this year, Oklahoma approved a near-total ban on abortion, and Texas passed major abortion restrictions in 2021.

Gingrich-Gaylord said 26 states will or are likely to ban abortions outright if the draft opinion becomes official.

“While I don’t want to jump to conclusions based on a leaked draft, I want to reiterate that I’ve always believed that every woman’s reproductive decisions should be left to her and her physician. I will continue to oppose all regressive legislation which interferes with individual rights or freedoms, and threatens the economic strides we’ve made in recent years making Kansas a welcoming place to do business.”

Gov. Laura Kelly said she did not want to jump to conclusions based on a leaked draft, but reaffirmed her belief that woman’s reproductive decisions should be made between her and her doctor.

“I will continue to oppose all regressive legislation which interferes with individual rights or freedoms, and threatens the economic strides we’ve made in recent years making Kansas a welcoming place to do business,” Kelly said.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the presumptive GOP challenger to Gov. Laura Kelly, said the leak of the draft opinion was “shameful” and an attempt to politicize the court.

“I will reserve comment until the Supreme Court publishes its actual decision,” Schmidt said. “But whatever the U.S. Supreme Court’s final decision regarding federal law, it will not diminish the need for Kansans who favor the protections already enacted in state law to adopt the Value Them Both state constitutional amendment in August.”

The amendment will appear on the Aug. 2 ballot. The deadline to register for the primary election is July 12.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.