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Kansas is a sanctuary state for abortion. What’s at stake if it’s outlawed?

Abortion-rights supporters (foreground) try to disrupt an anti-abortion march to the Texas Capitol during a Texas Rally for Life on Jan. 24 in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay
In August 2022, Kansas votersrejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have removed the right to an abortion.

In post-Roe America, Kansas has become one of the most traveled to states for abortion care. Despite nearly 60% of Kansans voting to protect the constitutional right to abortion last August, Republican lawmakers have passed several anti-abortion laws this year.

Sierra Harbinson was driving to Minnesota to marry their wife when they heard the United States Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade.

Harbinson, a registered nurse at Planned Parenthood Comprehensive Health Center in Overland Park, Kansas, told Up To Date host Steve Kraske they were disappointed, but not surprised, by the Dobbs ruling.

“As two people who could become pregnant, the decision felt incredibly personal,” they said. “But as someone who's been plugged into reproductive health, the increase in threats has been there for years.”

The clinic where Harbinson works is one of just six clinics across Kansas that offer abortion services. In the neighboring states of Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, where trigger laws outlawed abortion immediately after the Dobbs ruling, Kansas serves as a sanctuary for reproductive health.

And according to Harbinson, most of their patients travel long distances from out of state.

“It's certainly not uncommon to see patients who are traveling 10, 12, 14 hours in order to get to us,” they said.

Alison Dreith, who works for the Midwest Access Coalition — a fund that helps people traveling to and from the Midwest for abortions pay for transportation, lodging and childcare — said more than a third of this year's clients have traveled to Kansas for care.

Dreith said it would be a devastating loss if Kansas lawmakers further limited abortion access, which Republicans tried to do this legislative session.

Representative Stephanie Sawyer Clayton, a Kansas Democrat representing Overland Park, said she believes several conservative lawmakers want to ban abortion not because they're outright against the procedure, but because they want to gain power by politicizing the conversation.

“(Abortion) is health care,” she said. “The more that we think about it from that context, as opposed to something controversial, I think that the better we will be when it comes to making laws.”

Clayton, Harbinson and Dreith joined KCUR's Up To Date on Thursday to discuss the pivotal role Kansas has played to provide abortion access since the fall of Roe v. Wade one year ago this Saturday, June 24.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As a producer for Up To Date, I create sound-rich talk show segments about the individuals and communities that call Kansas City home. Whether it’s a poet, a business owner or a local lawmaker, I seek out diverse voices to help break down the biggest stories of the day. After listening to the show, I want Up To Date listeners to feel informed and empowered to make decisions in their daily lives. You can reach me at claudiab@kcur.org
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