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Kansas’ anti-abortion amendment wording is purposely confusing, panelists say

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The “Value Them Both” amendment would pave the way to a complete ban of abortion in Kansas despite language implying otherwise, panelists said Saturday of the measure coming to ballots this August.

The proposed amendment is in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that the right to the medical procedure is protected under the state’s constitution. If the majority votes “yes” in August, that protection would be taken away, and legislators could ban abortions even in cases of rape, incest, and risk of death.

However, from the question voters will read on the ballot, that’s not so clear, according to Rachel Sweet of Kansans for Constitutional Freedom.

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Joining Sweet on the Douglas County Democratic Party’s panel Saturday morning were Melinda Lavon, of Vote No Kansas; Alina Matejkowski, a University of Kansas sophomore majoring in strategic communications and political science; and moderator Amii Castle, who teaches law classes at KU and is faculty adviser to ACLU of KU.

The ballot language for the amendment begins: “The Value Them Both Amendment would affirm there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion or to require the government funding of abortion, and would reserve to the people of Kansas, through their elected state legislators, the right to pass laws to regulate abortion, including, but not limited to, in circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

Sweet broke the long sentence down.

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“There’s obviously a lot of emotionally charged language, right?” she said. “It starts out ‘Because Kansans value both women and children,’ as if to suggest that if you vote against this amendment, you, somehow, as a Kansan, do not.”

Sweet said the measure also implies that the Legislature would make exceptions in laws for rape, incest, or when a pregnancy endangers someone’s life, which would make the amendment more appealing to people who are generally against abortion but believe those kinds of exceptions should be there.

“I firmly believe this was put in here to mislead people,” she said.

Nationwide, Sweet said, states are passing “more and more extreme abortion restrictions” all the time. She pointed to Missouri, where a proposed bill could criminalize treating ectopic pregnancies. That’s when a fertilized egg is implanted outside the uterus; the pregnancies are not viable, and they can be life-threatening.

A Texas ban prevents abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, which is often before someone knows they are pregnant. And though the measures have failed, Texas lawmakers have pushed for those who receive or provide abortions to be punished by the death penalty.

“I would not trust the Kansas Legislature to pass humane, sane abortion policy if this amendment passes. I don’t think that they’ve given us any reason to assume that that will be the case,” Sweet said.

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The federal constitutional right to an abortion is in jeopardy as well, as the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade faces a challenge this summer, Sweet said.

Lavon said about half of abortions now are done with medication alone, which is approved for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. One of the things that makes her most angry about Kansas’ potential ban of abortion is that the people it would affect most would be poor people, and those who develop issues later in their pregnancies. People with the means would be able to make it to Denver or Chicago to access an abortion if necessary, she said.

“We are talking about abortion procedures often for children that already have names, and something is going terribly wrong, and I see that as a midwife all the time,” she said. A ban would affect people who “have a medical situation and no money, so that’s who we’re really trying to protect here.”

Moderator Amii Castle; Rachel Sweet, of Kansans for Constitutional Freedom; Melinda Lavon, of Vote No Kansas; and Alina Matejkowski, sophomore at the University of Kansas, during a Saturday Seminar on March 19, 2022 about a measure on the upcoming August ballot. (Screenshot)

Lavon said one challenge to stop the amendment will be reaching voters outside of Douglas County — many of Kansas’ other 100-plus counties lack strong Democratic party structures, she said. Another is getting voters to turn out in a non-presidential election year, especially unaffiliated voters who don’t typically vote in primary elections.

People who vote by advance (mail) ballots, including those who are registered as unaffiliated, can request an unaffiliated ballot or can check a box on the ballot request form to indicate if they want to receive a Democratic or Republican primary election ballot. The amendment question will be on all of them.

Matejkowski said young people’s territory is on social media. Developing infographics is one way she and her partner are focusing on how to communicate key messages. They’re also reaching out to local community leaders and businesses that have established social media followings to help reach audiences “faster, and with a wider range than ever.”

Sweet said another key point is that “this proposal is a solution in search of a problem.”

“Abortion is already heavily regulated in Kansas. … Abortion is a medical procedure, and medical procedures are regulated,” Sweet said.

But it’s also necessary to vote down the amendment to protect people’s freedom, she said.

“The short and sweet of it is, personal health decisions, including decisions about abortion, should be left to a woman, her doctor and her loved ones, not politicians in Topeka,” Sweet said. “That is something we should all be able to agree on.”

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage: August 2 Election

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The Lawrence Times reposts many, but not all, stories from the Kansas Reflector. Read more of their coverage here. We also frequently repost stories from the Kansas News Service. Read more of their coverage here.

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