Some Kansas nuns urge Medicaid expansion despite risk of taxpayer-funded abortions

Pregnancy pregnant woman prolife Credit Tatiana Vdb via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 12 18 14 Tatiana Vdb via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Despite cautioning from the Kansas Catholic Conference that Medicaid expansion in the state could lead to more state-funded abortions, a group of 76 nuns in the state have signed a petition urging lawmakers to go ahead with the expansion as soon as possible.

"Expanding KanCare [Medicaid in Kansas] is a lifesaving measure," the nuns wrote Feb. 25.

"Expansion increases access to high-quality care for those who would otherwise go without healthcare. We implore you to approve Medicaid expansion, because we cannot wait any longer to give Kansans the care they so desperately need."

The nuns insisted that the Kansas legislature "listen to the will of the voters and pass Medicaid expansion without any strings attached."

"It is morally unconscionable to play political games with the lives of Kansans, especially children, seniors, and people with disabilities," the nuns wrote.

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, a national group and longtime supporter of Medicaid expansion, coordinated the letter.

There are currently an estimated 400,000 people enrolled in Medicaid in Kansas. The Medicaid expansion bill currently under consideration would extend eligibility to an additional 130,000 low-income adults and children, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

Then-governor Sam Brownback vetoed Medicaid expansion in 2017, citing the budget crisis the state was experiencing at the time. The state's new governor, Democrat Laura Kelly, made Medicaid expansion a key issue in her 2018 campaign.

The Kansas Catholic Conference, while supporting Medicaid expansion in the state, has expressly supported a constitutional amendment stating that abortion is not a "natural" constitutional right in Kansas – known as the "Value Them Both" amendment – as a precondition.

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, told CNA in an interview that she believes Kansas already has adequate protection against state funding for abortion without the proposed constitutional amendment. The letter makes no mention of abortion.

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 consitution protects a women's right to have an abortion.

In light of the ruling, Republican lawmakers in the state are pushing for a constitutional amendment to ensure Medicaid funds do not go to elective abortions. The amendment has so far failed to garner the two-thirds majority support necessary in the state House.

The proposed amendment would condify 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." Should the amendment gain support from two-thirds of the Kansas House, the subsequent referendum would take place during the state primaries in August.

Campbell pointed out that there is currently a Kansas statute on the books prohibiting state dollars being used for abortions.

While other states, such as California and Illinois, have chosen to use state dollars to fund abortions, "the state of Kansas hasn't chosen to do it."

"I'm not sure why they're so worried about this," she said.

"I think there's adequate protection already. Let's get Kansans the healthcare they need and stop the political posturing...Let's get people healthcare, and then let's see if there's even this risk that [the KCC] is afraid of."

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For his part, Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, remains adamant that the idea that Kansas could soon use state money to pay for elective abortions is not as far-fetched as Campell would have people believe.

The federal Hyde Amendment bars federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

At least 16 states,  not including Kansas, currently use their own funds to pay for additional abortions outside of those conditions.

According to records from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Medicaid in Kansas covered one abortion in 2014 and three in 2018, KCUR reported.

Despite this, pro-life advocates have noted that limits on publicly funded abortion through state Medicaid programs have been struck down by the state supreme courts of Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey, and overall, nine state Medicaid programs now cover elective abortions as the result of judicial rulings, according to National Review.

"It is disingenuous to put on political blinders and ignore the other elephant in the room so closely connected to this issue," Weber said in an email to CNA.

"If Kansas passes Medicaid Expansion without the protection of the state constitutional amendment … then we are virtually assuring that taxpayer-funded abortion will become a reality in Kansas."

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The Special Committee on Medicaid Expansion, a joint House and Senate panel, held two days of hearings discussing an expansion of KanCare during November 2019.

Weber said in his Nov. 12 testimony that the conference cannot support Medicaid expansion unless it explicitly excludes the expansion of abortion coverage, includes conscience protections for healthcare organizations and individuals, and the state constitutional amendment is enacted to clarify that abortion is not a natural right.

Weber told CNA on Thursday that the KCC has contacted NETWORK to ask: "Why not help legislators to pass Value Them Both, which will then open the logjam to Medicaid Expansion in Kansas?"

"This is the authentically Catholic position, a classic win-win that helps save babies, protect women and provide healthcare to families," Weber said.

For her part, Campbell reiterated to CNA that she sees the risk of Kansas taxpayer-funded abortions as small, and that for her "the urgency now is getting people healthcare."

"For me, what I see the Kansas [Catholic] Conference doing is stopping care for everybody else because they have a fear of what the Supreme Court might do. And this is anguish in my heart. We gotta care for the born, also. So let's deal with the born. Let's get 'em healthcare."

Sr. Campbell has led the "Nuns on the Bus" advocacy campaign that has the support of the group Faith in Public Life and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden. She also delivered a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

NETWORK has, in the past, disagreed with the USCCB on support for various legislative efforts, including the extent to which the Affordable Care Act adequately forbade federal funding for abortion.

NETWORK also found itself at odds with the USCCB when it came out in support of the 2019 Equality Act, which has passed in the House, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the definition of "sex" in federal civil rights laws.

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