Amid amendment rhetoric, here’s what abortion actually looks like in Kansas

By: - July 15, 2022 9:49 am
Hundreds gather at South Park in Lawrence at a rally for reproductive rights on June 4. Voters in the Aug. 2 election will decide whether to adopt a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature unlimited authority to restrict or ban abortion in Kansas. (Lily O'Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

Hundreds gather at South Park in Lawrence at a rally for reproductive rights on June 4. Voters in the Aug. 2 election will decide whether to adopt a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature unlimited authority to restrict or ban abortion in Kansas. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Lawrence Journal-World)

TOPEKA — A typical abortion in Kansas involves a 20-something woman of color from Kansas or Missouri who is unmarried, already has at least one child, has never had an abortion before, is less than nine weeks from gestation and uses the drug mifepristone to terminate her pregnancy.

She has received state-ordered counseling designed to discourage her from having an abortion, waited at least 24 hours, looked at an ultrasound image and pays for the procedure out of her own pocket.

That experience is based on data reported by state health officials and restrictions enforced under state law in Kansas, although the actual experiences of women and girls vary significantly.

The details of what abortion looks like in Kansas are obscured by hyperbole surrounding the Aug. 2 vote on a constitutional amendment. This will be the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade that any state’s voters will consider the subject of abortion.

The Kansas Supreme Court in 2019 determined the state constitution’s right to bodily autonomy includes the right to terminate a pregnancy. The Aug. 2 amendment would nullify that ruling and give the Legislature the authority to pass any kind of abortion restriction, without exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health.

Those who support reproductive rights fear that passage of the amendment will lead to a total ban, based on the mission of the powerful anti-abortion lobbying group Kansans for Life, restrictive laws passed in neighboring states, legislation already introduced in Kansas and the track record of Republicans who dominate the Kansas Legislature.

The self-described Value Them Both Coalition, which includes Kansans for Life and faith-based groups, says the amendment is necessary to preserve existing restrictions that could be challenged in state court. It isn’t clear which restrictions, if any, would be found unlawful under the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling.

“That radical ruling put us on a path in which Kansans needed to step forward, and use the only means at our disposal to push back on that ruling,” said Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansans for Life and the Value Them Both Coalition, during a panel discussion this week.


Data visualization made with Flourish

The numbers

The annual report on abortion statistics from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows there were 7,849 abortion procedures in Kansas last year.

About half of those procedures involved Kansas patients — this has been the case for the past 20 years — and almost all of the out-of-state patients were from Missouri. Kansas clinics also served 233 patients from Texas, including four girls, and 137 from Oklahoma, including one girl.

In total, six girls younger than 14 received an abortion in Kansas in 2021, as well as nearly 200 among the ages of 14 through 17.

Women between the ages of 20 and 30 accounted for 58.5% of the abortions, and 28.5% of patients were between the ages of 30 and 40. Another 3.5% were over the age of 40.

Most of the patients — 85.2% — were unmarried.

Few abortions were administered outside of the first 12 weeks of gestation. The KDHE report shows that 69.6% of patients terminated their pregnancy in the first two months, 20.7% from 9 to 12 weeks, and 9.7% from 13 to 21 weeks. No abortions occurred outside of 22 weeks, the legal threshold except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.

The most frequent method of abortion was with the mifepristone pill, accounting for 67.8% of cases. Dilation and evacuation was used for 6.1%.

Black and Hispanic patients are disproportionately affected by the need for abortion services. Census data shows 86% of the Kansas population and 82.6% of the Missouri population is white. Patients who received an abortion, including those from out of state, were 48.3% white, 26% Black and 17% Hispanic.

About 70% of the patients had been pregnant before, and about 60% had at least one living child. Half of the patients had been pregnant at least twice, and 36% had two or more living children.

The total number of abortions reported in Kansas has declined from figures of more than 10,000 annually from 1991 to 2008.

 

A coalition of health professionals joined forces Friday to support passage Aug. 2 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would reject a Kansas Supreme Court decision finding the state's Bill of Rights guaranteed women the right to abortion. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
The proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution is a response to a Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 that found the state’s Bill of Rights guaranteed women the right to abortion. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The restrictions

The Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2019 struck down a 2015 law that banned dilation and evacuation, a procedure used at the time for 95% of the second-term abortions in Kansas.

All other restrictions remain in place.

State law requires patients to receive counseling that includes information to discourage them from receiving an abortion. They must undergo an ultrasound before the procedure, and the provider has to offer to show the image to them. Patients also have to wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure.

Abortions are illegal beyond 22 weeks from gestation, except when a mother’s health is severely compromised. Taxpayer money can only be used in cases that involve rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Private health insurance policies, as well as insurance for public employees and those on social welfare programs, like Medicaid, can’t cover abortion services unless a life is in danger. An individual can purchase an optional rider from private insurance at additional cost.

State law forbids abortions based on the gender of the child.

Minors need their parents’ consent to have an abortion.

Mifepristone can’t be administered through telemedicine.

 

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. The Kansas Supreme Court issued a decision in 2019 declaring otherwise. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

The amendment

During the Value Them Both panel discussion this week, Rep. Susan Humphries, a Wichita Republican, said she encourages everyone “to read the language of the amendment.”

“We crafted that language carefully,” she said.

The amendment would add the following section to the state constitution:

“Because Kansans value both women and children, the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion. To the extent permitted by the constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.”

In plain terms: A “yes” vote gives the Legislature unlimited authority to restrict or ban abortion. A “no” vote preserves the status quo.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.

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