Demise of Roe v. Wade adds gravity to Kansas’ vote on abortion constitutional amendment

Nearly half of the abortions performed in Kansas in 2020 were Missourians who crossed the state line

By: and - June 24, 2022 2:21 pm

The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has raised the stakes for a vote in August in Kansas on a constitutional amendment removing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector).

TOPEKA, Kansas — The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday striking down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide resonates deeply in Kansas where a proposed constitutional amendment on the August ballot could set the stage for a wave of new abortion restrictions in the state.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat campaigning for reelection in 2022, said the 6-3 decision by the nation’s highest court would have no immediate impact in Kansas given a Kansas Supreme Court opinion two years ago that said a constitutional right to abortion existed in the state’s Bill of Rights.

“But anybody who’s been alive in Kansas in the last six months knows that we have an amendment on the primary ballot that would essentially overturn the (state) Supreme Court ruling and say that women’s reproductive rights are not protected under the constitution,” Kelly said.

If the state constitutional amendment passed, Kelly said, the Republican-led Legislature would likely attempt to impose more stringent restrictions on women’s health care.

“If people in the state of Kansas vote no on that amendment, then the status quo will remain. And women’s reproductive rights will remain constitutional here in the state of Kansas,” Kelly said.

The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court held special significance in Kansas because the state’s voters head to the polls Aug. 2 to consider an abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. The amendment would reverse the state Supreme Court decision in 2019 that declared a right to bodily autonomy in the state’s Bill of Rights included a woman’s right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term.

Under the state Supreme Court’s decision, Kansans retained that right even if Roe v. Wade was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Passage of the “Value Them Both” amendment to the Kansas Constitution would nullify the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of constitutional rights to private health decisions and open the door to a ban or additional limitations on the procedure in Kansas.

The proposed Kansas amendment included no exemption for pregnancies occurring as result of rape or incest or to save the life of the pregnant woman. However, it wouldn’t preclude the legislative and executive branches of state government from embracing those exceptions in Kansas law.

The vote will have an impact on Missouri, where restrictive abortion laws have resulted in only 167 abortions being performed in the state in 2020. Meanwhile, 3,200 Missourians travelled to Kansas that year for an abortion and more than 6,000 to Illinois.

A coalition of anti-abortion, church and political organizations supporting the amendment claimed the state Supreme Court decision triggered an influx of out-of-state residents seeking abortions in Kansas. That perspective ignored consequences of profound abortion restrictions adopted in Texas and Oklahoma that pushed to other states women seeking reproductive health services.

“Kansas medical professionals are concerned about our state becoming a permanent destination state for painful dismemberment abortions,” said Mackenzie Haddix, who works with the pro-amendment coalition.

The Susan B. Anthony national pro-life group invested $1.3 million in Kansas to promote passage of the abortion amendment.

On the opposite side of the amendment debate, the bipartisan Kansans for Constitutional Freedom began airing television advertisements to encourage voters to choose “no” on the ballot measure. A simple majority of people participating in that statewide vote determine fate of the constitution amendment.

“On August 2nd, Kansas will vote on whether to eliminate Kansans’ freedom to make private medical decisions without political interference,” said Ashley All, spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom. “The constitutional amendment on the primary ballot will mandate government control over our private medical decisions and pave the way for a total ban on abortion. We ask Kansans to vote no.”

The coalition’s first commercial warned passage of the amendment would grant politicians power to pass any law regarding abortion, including a total ban without exceptions. Another ad pointed to the oath taken by physicians to “do no harm,” and issues raised when politicians in Topeka would assume authority for medical decisions.

“If this amendment passes, there will be nothing to prevent politicians from banning abortion outright,” All said. “One legislator already introduced a bill that completely bans abortion, makes it a felony to receive or perform an abortion, and provides no real exception to save a woman’s life.”

In Kansas, seven of 10 abortions in Kansas occurred prior to nine weeks of pregnancy and 90% prior to 12 weeks of pregnancy. State law prohibits abortions after 22 weeks. There have been no “post-viability” abortions in Kansas since 2018. Government funding of abortion has been outlawed in Kansas.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter is Senior Reporter for Kansas Reflector. He's reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.