Kansas lawmakers advance constitutional amendment to exclude 'right to abortion'

Kansas Capitol Credit  Gino Santa Maria   Shutterstock The Kansas capitol building. | Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock.

The Kansas Senate on Jan. 28 passed a measure that, if approved by voters, would amend the state's constitution to exclude a "right to abortion" and reserve the right to regulate abortion in the state to the legislature.

The proposed "Value Them Both" amendment would codify that "the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion." The Kansas House had passed the amendment Jan. 22.

The impetus for the amendment is an April 2019 ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court blocking a law that would have banned dilation and evacuation abortions, which found that the state constitution protects a woman's right to have an abortion.

If voters approve the amendment by a simple majority during the primary election in August 2022, it will nullify that ruling.

The amendment's supporters have said that the amendment is not intended to be a ban on abortion, but rather will allow bipartisan laws restricting abortion passed before the 2019 ruling to take effect. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly is opposed to the amendment.

The Kansas Catholic Conference has supported the amendment, saying that because the measure did not pass the legislature in 2020, "it will be the legislative priority" for the state's bishops in the 2021 session.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, told CNA that while the amendment's passage is an "unprecedented legislative achievement," getting the measure to pass when placed before voters will be a challenge.

Weber said he expects strong opposition to the amendment from the abortion industry.

"Without the financial resources that the abortion industry enjoys, ours will be a grassroots, shoe leather effort. It really is David versus Goliath," he told CNA.

Weber said the KCC is preparing a statewide grassroots educational campaign which will involve Catholic churches in the state, diocesan Respect Life coordinators, parishes, Knights of Columbus, college students at Newman Centers and Catholic colleges and universities, and Catholic schools. The group is also reaching out to non-Catholic partners, including the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, Weber said.

He urged prayers for the amendment's passage.

"We already have in place a robust spiritual effort that includes leaning on Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Unborn, who is the Patroness for our effort," he said, adding that all four of Kansas' Catholic bishops have encouraged the faithful to pray the rosary together.

The Kansas amendment mirrors an ongoing legal effort in Iowa, another state whose Supreme Court has ruled that a "right to abortion" exists in its constitution. That state's house on Jan. 27 passed House Joint Resolution 5, which would amend the Iowa state constitution to clarify that it "does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion."

Similarly, in Louisiana, voters in November 2020 approved an amendment excluding a right to abortion from that state's constitution. State Senator Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat, authored the Louisiana amendment when she was a state representative, along with dozens of co-sponsors from both parties.

Tennessee, West Virginia, and Alabama have also passed similar amendments.

Kansas' abortion policy is prescient not only for its own residents but also for residents of its neighbor Missouri, which currently has only one clinic licensed to preform abortions, located on the far east side of the state in St. Louis.

As a result, many Missouri residents living near the Missouri-Kansas border avail themselves of abortions from clinics located in Overland Park and Wichita.

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Nearly half of all abortions performed in Kansas in 2017 were on Missouri residents, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Data from 2019, the latest available, show that Missouri residents accounted for roughly 94% of the out-of-state residents having abortions in Kansas, the Witchita Eagle reports.

A report from the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services shows 39 surgical abortions took place in Missouri from Jan. 1 through Nov. 15, 2020, compared to 1,362 performed in 2019. The state recorded zero abortions in December 2020, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

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