Kansas lawmakers consider pro-life change to state constitution

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

The Kansas legislature is attempting to force a statewide referendum on abortion after the state's Supreme Court declared it a constitutional right, striking down pro-life legislation earlier this year. 

In April, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state constiution included a fundamental right to have an abortion, and blocked a law that who have banned dilation and evacuation abortions. Dilation and evacuation is the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions.

In response to that decision, on Oct. 1, a legislative committee began two days of hearings to consider a state-wide referendum to amend the constitution, making it explicit that abortion is not a right and the court cannot interpret the constitution to say it is. 

With both pro-life and pro-abortion advocates anticipating a possible change to the Supreme Court's current settlement in Roe v Wade, focus has moved to the local level in preparation for a possible broadening of the scope for state action.

Alabama and West Virginia have already amended their constitutions with similar wording, to prevent state supreme courts interpreting them to find a right to abortion. Louisiana residents will vote in 2020 to amend their constitution. 

A two-thirds majority in both of Kansas' legislative chambers is needed in order to add a referendum to the ballot next year. 

Earlier this year, the Kansas legislature passed a law making it madatory to inform women recieveing chemical abortions that the process could be halted by interrupting the two-dose chemcial abortion regimine. 

A chemical abortion involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. The second drug is taken up to two days later and induces labor. Several pro-life clinics throughout the country provide abortion pill reversals, a protocol that involves giving pregnant women who regret their decision to take the first drug doses of progesterone to counteract the progesterone-blocking effects of the mifepristone.

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed that bill, which would have required medical workers to inform women of this possibility when dispensing abortion drugs. but narrowly avoided an override, with lawmakers nearly reaching the two-thirds majority needed.

Presently, the Kansas constitution states that "The legislature shall provide for the protection of the rights of women, in acquiring and possessing property, real, personal and mixed, separate and apart from the husband; and shall also provide for their equal rights in the possession of their children." 

The Kansas Supreme Court said in April that this extends to a "natural right of personal autonomy" regarding abortion. 

Kansas adopted this constitution in 1859, when abortion was largely--if not entirely--illegal. 

The actual text of the proposed referendum has yet to be determined, but is being drafted by pro-life legislators and pro-life groups. According to Mary Kay Culp, who leads Kansans for Life, the constitutional amendment would likely declare that the state's legislature will decide abortion restrictions in the state. It would not ban abortion, however. 

Culp testified before the committee that the pro-life movement is "stuck" in the referrendum process, and that "there is really no other way to do it."  

Due to the April ruling, pro-lifers warned, other Kansas laws limiting abortion could also be at risk of being overturned. In Kansas, abortion is not legal after the 22nd week of a pregnancy, and parents must be informed and consent to their minor child having an abortion.

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