TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansans will likely vote this August on whether to become the fourth state to enshrine in their constitution that abortion isn't a right.
Anti-abortion activists say Kansas needs the change to protect its current abortion laws against potential court challenges.
Their abortion rights counterparts warn many of those laws already go too far, and the constitutional amendment would pave the way for making abortion illegal.
Where does Kansas law stand on abortion today?
In broad strokes, it doesn’t allow a few key abortion methods and women generally can’t get abortions after 22 weeks of (or slightly more than halfway through) pregnancy.
Being the victim of rape or incest doesn’t get women out of those rules. Kansas makes some exceptions for pregnancies that go very wrong and could kill the mother or do her serious physical harm.
Kansas abortion laws say life begins at fertilization.
Headed to the ballot?
The ballot measure cleared the Kansas Senate last week. The Kansas House may vote this week.
The constitutional amendment would then go to a public vote in August. It would add a line to the state bill of rights saying abortion isn’t constitutionally protected — and that lawmakers can pass laws on abortion, including for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest or threaten a woman’s life.
Democrats have tried to derail the amendment by suggesting it could lead to an outright abortion ban. Republicans called that fearmongering.
“Good lord — I can’t imagine that passing,” Senate President Susan Wagle pushed back. “That is a scare tactic.”
Voters in Tennessee were the first to change their constitution in 2014 to clarify it contains no right to abortion. Alabamians and West Virginians followed suit in 2018. Alabama has since passed a nearly complete abortion ban and Tennessee’s governor is pushing to stop abortions at about six weeks pregnancy, before many women may know they’re pregnant.
The Kansas push follows a state supreme court ruling last year that concluded women have control over their own bodies and whether to have children. Abortion, it said, is therefore constitutionally protected.
Anti-abortion groups fear the decision will lead to an avalanche of court rulings that will strike down other laws they got passed over the years. For abortion rights advocates, the ruling was insurance against the U.S. Supreme Court someday striking down Roe v. Wade.
Right now, Roe and other federal legal precedent stop states from banning abortion. (That’s why Alabama’s ban is tied up in court.)
But in places like Kansas — where state supreme courts have found a right to abortion under state constitutions — the procedure would stay legal even without Roe.
Kansas has hundreds upon hundreds of lines worth of abortion statutes and regulations. Here’s a peek at some. They don’t apply to removing a fetus that died naturally within a mother.
Some of these laws aren’t in force, pending the outcome of lawsuits.
The 22-week cutoff: No abortions of a viable fetus once 22 weeks have passed since the pregnant woman last began a menstrual period. (Some babies born at that very premature age have been able to survive.) Kansas allows an exception to save a mother’s life or stop serious and permanent damage to her bodily functions, but only if two doctors without legal or financial affiliation to each other to agree the abortion is needed. Only one such abortion took place in the past five years, state reports show. Other Kansans left the state for the procedure.
Parental permission: Anyone under 18 seeking abortion needs written notarized permission from both of her parents. But there are several exceptions, such as if she is married, her parents are divorced, or she was the victim of incest by her father. Minors can ask a judge to waive the parental permission law. If judges don’t rule within 48 hours, the law is automatically waived.
Counseling for minors: Unless it’s an immediate medical emergency, minors must meet with a counselor and take along a parent or someone over the age of 21 with an interest in their wellbeing and no affiliation with the abortion facility. The conversation should include talking about abortion and alternatives.
Child rape: Kansas law defines sex with someone under the age of 14 as rape. If a child is under 14 years old, the doctor must turn over fetal tissue from her abortion to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, together with the names of her parents.
No D&E: Dilation and evacuation — called “dismemberment abortion” by anti-abortion groups and in state law — is the most common procedure after 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A Kansas law that could soon be struck down because of last year’s state supreme court ruling bans D&E except to save a mother’s life or stop serious and permanent damage to her bodily functions.
The abortion pill: About 60% of abortions in Kansas involve this pill, and at least one of the state’s four clinics has used doctors in other states to guide women through the process remotely by video while they sit in the clinic. A Kansas law tied up in court bans that.
Mandatory information: Women have to wait 24 hours after requesting an abortion.
A Kansas law called the Women’s Right to Know Act kicks in. It sets rules about what clinics have to tell women, in addition to messages they need to hang on their walls and post online, and information that the state’s health agency puts on this dedicated website.
At right is a sign hanging in an abortion clinic in Overland Park, with information in ¾” font. It tells women that Medicaid may help pay for the cost of carrying a child to term, that fathers are on the hook for child support, and other information.
Women receive information about agencies and resources to help with adoption or parenting.
They are told in writing the abortion will end “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
They are told how old their embryo or fetus is and what anatomy it has likely developed so far.
Shortly before their abortion, doctors then must offer to let them hear the heartbeat and view the sonogram, and women must sign a sheet of paper indicating they accepted or refused.
Abortion licensure: Abortion clinics in Kansas must get a license from the state each year. That, anti-abortion activists say, keeps patients safe. But clinics argue it’s meant to make their operations more difficult by piling on extra rules beyond the regular forms of oversight for the medical field. The abortion clinic rules touch on everything from lavatories to staffing to annual equipment checks and surprise inspections.
Public money and abortion: No using the State General Fund and other types of state revenue for abortion (unless required by federal law) and state employees can’t perform abortions. That includes the University of Kansas Medical Center. Faculty can’t do abortions on the clock or on university property. The sole exception: To save a woman’s life.
Private insurance and abortion: Health plans can’t cover costs from an abortion unless it’s to save a woman’s life. State law allows for purchasing a policy rider to cover abortion, but researchers say that’s rarely available. (Separately, the federal Medicaid and CHIP programs pay for abortion in Kansas only to save a mother’s life or in cases of rape or incest.)
Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @Celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.
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