Kansas voters to choose future of abortion rights in the state with Aug. 2 ballot measure

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Kansas state Sen. Mark Steffen told an audience of Republicans, 'We'll be able to make further laws, further refinement, with my goal of life starting at conception.'

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on June 24 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned the affirmation in its decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 of a constitutional right to abortion throughout the country, residents of Kansas continue to have the right to have an abortion.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the state's Constitution protects that right. But on Aug. 2, Kansans will have to vote no on a ballot measure if they want to keep it.

On the ballot for the state primary election to be held that day is an amendment to the state Constitution pushed by a group of anti-abortion organizations called the Value Them Both Coalition. The proposed amendment reads:

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 constitution of the United States, the people, through their elected state representatives and state senators, may pass laws regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.

The Value Them Both Coalition, using misleading and false terminology, claims that the Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2019 endangers "all common sense limits on the abortion industry in Kansas, including bans on taxpayer-funded abortions, limits on partial-birth and late-term abortion, and parental consent requirements for minors, even the mother's right to know about her own health risks."

However, even with the right to abortion in Kansas affirmed by the court, the state has on its books considerable regulations on abortion. Except in cases in which the pregnant patient's health or life is in danger, they prohibit abortions after 22 weeks and public funding and private insurance coverage of abortion, and require parental consent before a minor can obtain an abortion. 

NPR noted on July 18 that the Kansas ballot measure will be the first vote in the country on abortion rights since the overturning of Roe.

The initiative's organizers, like many abortion opponents before them, make sure not to appear to be promoting an outright ban on abortion, but instead insist that the issue is one of returning what should be under the jurisdiction of the states back to the proper authorities. 

But, says the pro-abortion rights organization Kansans for Constitutional Freedom:

The constitutional amendment on the 2022 primary ballot will pave the way for a total ban on abortion in Kansas. It will hand our personal healthcare decisions over to politicians in Topeka. Don't be fooled, this is an unnecessary amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Kansas already regulates abortion, just as it would any medical procedure. This amendment is an attempt to give politicians in Topeka the power to go beyond reasonable regulation and ban abortion completely. KCF is working together to defeat the August 2, 2022 constitutional amendment.

The Kansas Reflector on July 15 posted an audio recording that it had obtained of a regional director of the Value Them Both Coalition being asked in June at a meeting of Republicans in Haven, Kansas, about passage of the ballot measure on Aug. 2 opening up "a way for trigger bills to pass." The director, who has reportedly since left the organization, responds with the incorrect statement, "We do have one ready — H.B. 2746 — so we'll move that up," and is corrected by another person, since the bill she refers to died in committee in the previous legislative session and would have to be reintroduced.

State Sen. Mark Steffen then tells the crowd, "Right now, the way it sits, the state Supreme Court has hijacked the abortion issue. They have total and complete control of any decisions in regards to it. So until we vote that there's not a guaranteed abortion in our Constitution — we've gotta vote for this amendment, and then we can begin our — the laws we already have in the books will come back into place. We'll be able to make further laws, further refinement, with my goal of life starting at conception." 

If the constitutional amendment passes in August, it would give the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature the power to pass such legislation. The previous version of H.B. 2746 would have criminalized abortion from fertilization to birth with exceptions only in the case of miscarriages, stillbirths, and ectopic pregnancies. 

Polling conducted in 2021 by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University found that Kansas adults are broadly supportive of reproductive rights, with 62.5% agreeing with the statement, "When it comes to abortion, women are in a better position than politicians to make their own choices about whether to get an abortion."

Precinct election officials told CBS affiliate KCTV in Kansas City that, with the amendment on the ballot, they expect high voter turnout on Aug. 2.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.