A coalition of conservative and faith-based political groups Thursday gathered at the Capitol for introduction of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution designed to reverse a state court decision establishing abortion as a fundamental right.
Five organizations, including Kansans for Life and the Kansas Catholic Conference, denounced the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling in April as a threat to every anti-abortion law on the books in Kansas. If approved by two-thirds margins in the House and Senate, the fast-tracked amendment would go before Kansas voters in the August primary election. A simple majority of the voters would decide the issue.
"This amendment will restore the foundation for basic regulations to be placed around the abortion industry," said Brittany Jones, advocacy director at Family Policy Alliance of Kansas. "The recent ruling removed the legal underpinning for laws that permit regulating abortion and made Kansas the Wild West for abortion."
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican running for the U.S. Senate, said her plan was to schedule a joint House and Senate committee hearing Tuesday on the amendment and bring the measure to a swift vote in the Senate. She said no other bill of consequence would be considered by the 2020 Legislature until the abortion amendment was addressed, but expected the Legislature to finish its work on the amendment within two weeks.
"Every reasonable, publicly supported regulation of the abortion industry may soon be struck down. This would be both dangerous and devastating to the women and babies of Kansas," Wagle said.
In response, five organizations expressed solidarity with the Supreme Court's finding that Section 1 of the state constitution's Bill of Rights encompassed a natural right to personal autonomy that included the right to decide whether to have an abortion. ACLU of Kansas, Mainstream Coalition, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, Trust Women and URGE said the amendment was an "extreme step to deny women’s rights" and reflected a larger desire to make abortion illegal in Kansas.
"Kansans trust women, not politicians, to make decisions about their reproductive health care," said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of the Trust Women abortion clinic in Wichita.
Brandon Hill, president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the Supreme Court concluded a thoughtful process by upholding the constitutional protection for women to control their bodies and practice self-determination in health care.
"Kansans have long supported the rights of women," Hill said. "We recognized women’s right to vote nearly a decade before the 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress. We don’t need to change our constitution. We need to let women make personal medical decisions without interference from politicians."
The proposed amendment language says: "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 United States Constitution, the people through their elected state representatives and state senators may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, in circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."
The number of abortions in Kansas dropped more than 40% during the past two decades from a peak of 12,400 in 1999 to 7,000 in 2018.
The Supreme Court considered constitutional implications of abortion after Overland Park providers Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser challenged a 2015 state ban on the dilation and evacuation procedure. The first-in-the-nation law prohibited the procedure except to preserve the life of the mother, prevent impairment of a mother's major bodily function or when the fetus was already dead.
The "Value Them Both" campaign developed by pro-life organizations framed the amendment as the best way of preserve limits on late-term abortions, prohibitions on taxpayer funding of abortions, parental notification requirements and clinic safety standards.
Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said Kansas abortion clinic operators couldn't be counted on to maintain basic health and safety practices.
"That industry has not been trustworthy in the past and there is no reason to believe it will be trustworthy in the future. The abortion industry needs the oversight allowed by this amendment," Humphries said.
Nadine Johnson, executive director of ACLU of Kansas, said the amendment would embed discrimination in the state constitution.
"Kansas’ constitution protects personal autonomy. A woman’s ability to make private, reproductive health care decisions with her family and her physician is a critical component of that protection," Johnson said.