Opinion

In Kansas abortion amendment debate, three big lies prevent honest exchanges

July 25, 2022 3:33 am
As a Kansas abortion amendment is debated, lies about what it does and doesn't do are obscuring commonsense debate on the topic. (Getty Images)

As a Kansas abortion amendment is debated, lies about what it does and doesn’t do are obscuring commonsense debate on the topic. (Getty Images)

For a group of people presumably interested in the guidance of the Lord Almighty, backers of the “Value Them Both” amendment have a lot of problems with the Ninth Commandment.

They’re lying an awful lot.

The state constitutional amendment on the ballot Aug. 2 has been debated ad nauseam in recent months. It would preempt a 2019 ruling from the Kansas state Supreme Court protecting abortion rights and allow the Legislature to pass any and all restrictions on the procedure, including a ban. You can support that idea or oppose it; either position has a defensible case.

Whatever you pick, you can’t deny that it’s a big decision. The U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade means that questions about abortion access will be decided on a state-by-state level. The amendment vote will have immediate, real-world repercussions.

But rather than discuss those repercussions, those advertising the amendment have instead decided to lie. I use that word purposefully, because this is an opinion column and I can. But I also use it because I believe that outright stating untruths — rather than the usual political spin — degrades our discourse.

Here are the three biggest lies told during the amendment debate so far. In each case, I’m taking the text from a flier that was thoughtfully taped to my door last week.

 

‘The Amendment does not ban abortion’

Officials have stated outright that they plan to ban abortion as soon as the amendment passes. A bill to do so was introduced last session by Rep. Trevor Jacobs.

Lori Chrisman, at the time a regional director for the Value Them Both Coalition, told a batch of Reno County Republicans about the plan last month. State Sens. Caryn Tyson and Mark Steffen spoke approvingly alongside her. And while the statewide group has disavowed Chrisman’s comments, it hasn’t explained how a regional official with little knowledge of legislative practice — the senators had to correct her at several points — nevertheless knew the exact bill number.

But the statement is a lie for other reasons as well.

Let’s go back to the reason that the Kansas Supreme Court was ruling on abortion rights in the first place. Kansas legislators had targeted a common second-trimester abortion procedure — dilation and evacuation. If that original bill had gone into effect, surgical abortions beyond the first trimester would have been banned in Kansas.

The high court’s ruling, while establishing a general principle of abortion rights, also struck down that law. So an amendment deleting that ruling will restore that original bill and its intended effects. A common type of second-trimester abortion will be banned.

Just like that.

 

‘Without the Value Them Both Amendment, abortions become legal up to the moment of birth’

They don’t. Kansas has and continues to ban abortions after 22 weeks. That restriction has remained in place since 2019 and has not been challenged. Nothing has changed.

Richard Levy, a constitutional law professor at the University of Kansas, told Kansas Reflector’s Allison Kite earlier this week that such limits would likely be upheld, even if challenged by abortion-rights advocates.

The Guttmacher Institute, the nation’s premier nonprofit tracking reproductive health issues, points out that even this limitation has its roots in a lie: “This law is based on the assertion, which is inconsistent with scientific evidence and has been rejected by the medical community, that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy.”

For that matter, the repeated phrase “painful late-term abortions” is ridiculous. Any mother out there can tell you that giving birth is painful enough in its own right.

 

‘Even the most universally accepted regulations … would almost certainly disappear’

It has been three years since the Kansas Supreme Court’s rulings. Other state abortion restrictions — except the one specifically challenged — have remained on the books. They have been followed and enforced.

If all abortion regulations disappeared back in 2019, why does Kansas still have them?

That’s because the talking point is a lie. Legal cases would have to be brought against these other abortion regulations, and the state high court would have to decide whether each of them violated constitutional protections. No such cases have been brought, and no such decisions have been made.

“Having the state constitutional protection has not ended mandatory consent. It has not ended ultrasounds or any other part of our care,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, in Kite’s story. “What it has prevented, though, are targeted regulations specifically at abortion that limit access.”

 

What Kansans have a right to expect

Kansans deserve a robust debate about this proposed constitutional amendment.

It will affect the lives of women and everyone who can give birth. As an adoptive parent and former children’s advocate, I’m keenly aware of the importance of valuing the littlest Kansans and their parents alike.

Abortion prompts deep, nuanced feelings and emotional discussions. That’s OK. That’s expected. God grant us the grace necessary to navigate these chats with care.

We all, however, must remain on guard against outright untruths. Lies have to be called out. Those across the ideological spectrum can find a common goal in urging everyone to speak honestly and accurately during these heated days.

Kansas has gone through a lot recently. We deserve 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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