Kansas abortion ban is the plan, officials pushing constitutional amendment tell GOP crowd

By: - July 15, 2022 6:31 pm
"Vote Yes" supporters protest at a rally for reproductive rights at South Park in Lawrence on June 4. "Vote No" supporters moved to cover anti-abortion signs. (Lily O'Shea Becker/Lawrence Journal-World)

“Vote Yes” supporters protest at a rally for reproductive rights at South Park in Lawrence on June 4. “Vote No” supporters moved to cover anti-abortion signs. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Lawrence Journal-World)

TOPEKA — A regional director of the Value Them Both Coalition told a meeting of Reno County Republicans last month that the organization has legislation ready to ban abortion in Kansas if voters adopt a constitutional amendment Aug. 2.

A state senator also told the crowd he wanted to pass laws “with my goal of life starting at conception.”

The expressed intent to ban abortion stands in direct contrast with public statements by supporters of the constitutional amendment, who have repeatedly insisted the Aug. 2 vote is not about banning abortion. The comments support the fears of those who are working to defeat the amendment.

“We are pleased that a Value Them Both representative was finally honest and forthright about their real goal to ban abortion completely in Kansas,” said Ashley All, spokeswoman for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which opposes the amendment. “We now have confirmation — from their own campaign staff and legislative leaders — that if this amendment passes, the Kansas Legislature will move quickly to pass the most extreme ban on abortion possible.”

The Kansas Supreme Court in a 2019 ruling said the state constitution’s right to bodily autonomy includes the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Passage of the Value Them Both amendment would invalidate the Supreme Court’s decision and give the Legislature unlimited authority to pass restrictions on reproductive rights — or a complete abortion ban, without exceptions.

Comments from the June 14 meeting in Haven were captured on audio obtained by Kansas Reflector.

In the audio, Lori Chrisman identifies herself to the crowd as an 18-county regional director for the Value Them Both Coalition.

“I’m in charge of in getting out the vote with, and knocking on doors, and making phone calls, working on grassroots initiatives on this,” Chrisman said.

An unidentified man in the audience then asks if someone can explain what happens when the constitutional amendment passes.

“We do have one ready — HB2746 — so we’ll move that up,” Chrisman said.

“It’s out there,” she added, “but it’s not voted on or anything yet.”

The bill she referenced was introduced this past session by Rep. Trevor Jacobs, a Fort Scott Republican. The legislation would criminalize all abortions from the moment of fertilization until birth. The felony level would be the same as murder. There are exceptions for miscarriages, stillbirths and ectopic pregnancies, but not for rape, incest, or to save the life of a mother.

Mackenzie Haddix, a deputy spokeswoman for the Value Them Both Coalition, said Chrisman is no longer with the organization and didn’t speak on behalf of the coalition.

The proposed constitutional amendment, Haddix said, “is not a ban on abortion.”

Danielle Underwood, a spokeswoman for Kansans for Life, said the organization had nothing to do with the drafting of HB2746 and that the legislation has nothing to do with the constitutional amendment. She didn’t respond to a question about whether Kansans for Life would support the bill if the amendment were to pass.

During the meeting, Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican who is running for state treasurer, clarified that the bill would have to be re-introduced next year, because all bills died when the session ended in May.

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson Republican, said the state Supreme Court “hijacked the abortion issue” with its ruling in 2019. After the amendment passes, he said, the Legislature can take action.

“We’ll be able to make further laws, further refinement, with my goal of life starting at conception,” Steffen said.

His comments were answered by loud applause.

The meeting took place 10 days before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving each state to determine its own rules on abortion. Because the Kansas Supreme Court ruling was based on the state constitution, abortion remains legal in Kansas.

Republican lawmakers and leaders of the Value Them Both Coalition, which includes Kansans for Life and faith-based groups, have been careful to avoid saying what legislation they intend to pursue if the amendment passes. Instead, they have focused their messaging on preserving restrictions in state law that could be challenged under the 2019 ruling. It isn’t clear which restrictions, if any, would be found unlawful.

The restrictions currently in place include a ban on abortions 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.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.