Proposed Kansas bill would turn abortion control over to cities, counties

Lawmakers laughed at the introduction of legislation to let local government impose stricter abortion laws

By: - January 23, 2023 12:03 pm
Sen. Chase Blasi, R-Wichita, led the chamber through floor debate on Senate Bill 116, which required the Kansas Board of Education to approve firearm-safety curriculum standards and to incorporate a program offered by the National Rifle Association for children in grades K-8, while a state hunting program would be available to students in grades 6-12. The Senate voted 30-8 to send the bill to the House. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Chase Blasi, R-Wichita, introduced new abortion legislation that would allow cities and counties to implement their own abortion regulations, as long as they are stricter than state abortion law. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A recently introduced bill would bring the abortion fight to the county and city level, allowing local government to limit access to reproductive health care.

The latest in a series of attempts to restrict abortion, Senate Bill 65 would give cities and counties the right to enact stricter laws on abortion than current state law. Sen. Chase Blasi, R-Wichita, introduced the bill without putting his name on it as a sponsor.

Under current state law, use of drugs or devices that inhibit ovulation, fertilization or implantation of the embryo — meaning birth control, such as IUDS, pills and condoms, are deemed legal, as is disposing of the products of in-vitro fertilization before implantation, such as fertilized eggs. The state, along with any political subdivision of the state, doesn’t have the right to prohibit these practices and devices. SB65 would keep this section of the law intact, but allow local governments to limit abortion. 

SB 65 would stipulate that as long as the abortion regulations are as strict or stricter than state law, cities and counties have the right of regulation within the boundaries of the area. The bill would overrule statewide protections, upholding the “more stringent local regulation.” If passed, SB 65 would take effect immediately.

During a Thursday meeting of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, lawmakers chuckled as Blasi introduced the bill to limit reproductive rights for Kansas women.

“Any objections? Seeing none, that bill is introduced,” said committee chairman Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, as he leaned back in his chair and laughed with Sen. Rick Kloos, R-Topeka, and other legislators on the committee.

In Kansas, abortions are illegal after 22 weeks of gestation, except in cases where the mother’s health is in jeopardy. There have been no abortions performed outside of this 22-week window in recent years, according to state records.

In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court determined the state constitution’s right to bodily autonomy includes the right to terminate a pregnancy. Republicans have repeatedly stated their intentions to restrict abortion access in the state, even though Kansans in August voted down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given lawmakers the authority to ban abortion without exceptions.

In the Kansas GOP legislative agenda, abortion limitations are mentioned as a high priority. Republican lawmakers want to implement stricter abortion laws and fund more crisis pregnancy centers in the state.

Republican Sens. Molly Baumgardner, of Louisburg, and Rob Olson, of Olathe, said Monday they haven’t had a chance to review the legislation yet but that they oppose abortion.

“I’m not going to comment on the bill, but I’m 100% pro-life and I don’t support abortion,” Olson said.

Other abortion-related legislation introduced includes Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson. The bill would prohibit the prescription of abortion drugs by telemedicine and take away the governor’s ability to alter the prohibitions during a state of emergency.

House Minority Leader Vic Miller, D-Topeka, said he remained committed to defending women’s reproductive rights. Miller referenced the November retention of Kansas Supreme Court justices who upheld the right to abortion, saying it showed widespread support for these rights.

“These facts are why it is so profoundly insulting to the vast majority of Kansans who voted ‘NO’ that Republicans in the Kansas Senate have introduced multiple pieces of legislation to ban abortion,” Miller said in a statement. “We have a simple job in the Legislature represent our constituents. With nearly 600,000 Kansans choosing to protect the right to reproductive health care, there is no excuse for this negligent, harmful, and misogynistic legislation.”

Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said the organization would honor the anniversary by fighting to protect abortion and contraception access in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

“We may assume the long arc of history bends towards justice, but we have a duty to grab hold of it and pull it in that direction,” Wales said in a statement. “We have worked to do that at Planned Parenthood Great Plains for the past year, by serving as many patients as possible seeking abortion care, fighting intensely to protect access in Kansas and working to reassure and support all patients in our four states that we are here, and our doors remain open.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the legislation could affect access to contraception such as IUDs and condoms. The legislation only pertains to abortion. 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.