Panelists including Pere DeRoy, middle, address potential effects of the Aug. 2 vote on the Kansas constitutional amendment on the right to an abortion. DeRoy feared advocates for marginalized communities would have to carry a heavier load if the amendment passes. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Pere DeRoy says for marginalized communities the Kansas constitutional amendment on the right to abortion is not the beginning or the end of the issue of medical mistreatment.
DeRoy, a doctoral student in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at the University of Kansas, says people of color have been ignored or harmed through past policies like forced sterilization. They said if history is any indicator, these communities are likely to feel the most severe effects of the Aug. 2 vote on the constitutional amendment.
If the amendment were to pass, DeRoy worries, those already struggling would be left to withstand the worst of further restrictions.
“My major fear in terms of the ripple effect is that the people who are doing the work would have to do so in a heavier fashion,” DeRoy said. “People who are pushing for a productive justice, they will have to advocate and raise money and dance to different music with this amendment, right? The amendment intensifies issues for those who were already in inherently vulnerable positions.”
DeRoy was joined Wednesday by a diverse panel with backgrounds in nursing, law, history, elections and more. The discussion was part of events hosted by the YWCA Northeast Kansas in response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the upcoming amendment vote.
The focus of the events goes beyond reproductive rights, looking at the intersection of justice issues with abortion. The panelists addressed how unequal access to health care has driven racial disparities in maternal and other health outcomes, tying these concerns to the impact of the upcoming amendment.
Kansans will decide in the Aug. 2 election whether to remove a right to abortion from the state’s constitution. Advanced voting is underway across the state.
The vote will be the first on abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. Passage of the amendment would nullify a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling and allow the Legislature to impose a total ban on abortion or any restrictions. Rejection of the amendment would preserve access to regulated abortion services.
In the first public poll on the issue, 47% of the more than 1,500 voters sampled supported the so-called “Value Them Both” amendment, and 43% were against it. The remaining 10% were undecided.
“If the amendment passes, because there isn’t a joiner law in Kansas, there will be massive litigation all over the place, about all kinds of different issues that are not going to be resolved just by this amendment,” said Teresa Woody, litigation director for Kansas Appleseed.
Melissa Stiehler, with the KS Vote Neigh campaign and advocacy director of Loud Light, emphasized during the panel that engaging younger voters is key to the Aug. 2 election. She encouraged people to go out, educate and engage with as many people as possible on the issue.
“We don’t need to convince people to share our views because the majority of people are already with us,” Stiehler said. “We need to turn people out. We don’t need to convince them. You need to educate them about what this bill would do and what this amendment does.”
Ami Hyten, executive director of the Topeka Independent Living Center, said one approach she is using to frame the amendment for those who may be on the fence about the issue or about turning out to vote is appealing to the status quo.
“There is some power in inertia. The reality is a no vote changes nothing,” Hyten said. “There are already significant restrictions and health considerations and safety standards and things like that, so a no vote, it changes nothing.”
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