Overturn of Roe v. Wade raises stakes for Kansas abortion rights battle in August

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TOPEKA — The stakes for the August vote over a Kansas constitutional amendment on abortion access were made clear by the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion striking down federal abortion rights.

The draft opinion rejecting the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is not final and does not necessarily set in stone the opinion of Supreme Court justices. If the draft opinion becomes official, Kansans will still have abortion rights under the state constitution.

However, the so-called Value Them Both amendment approved by the Legislature last year would erase this right if Kansans approve the change at the polls in August.

The amendment is a response to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said the right to personal autonomy in the Kansas Constitution applies to a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. The ruling stemmed from a 2015 lawsuit after the Legislature enacted a ban on dilation and evacuation, a procedure used for 95% of patients who terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester.

Abortion rights advocates said the procedure provides the safest medical care, while opponents called it barbaric and inhumane.

In a statement, the Value Them Both Coalition supporting the August amendment argued even with the nation’s highest court weighing in, Kansas laws are “among the most extreme in the nation.”

“If Kansans want to stop this, they must vote YES,” the statement said.

Should the amendment fail, abortion will remain legal in Kansas regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion. If the amendment is approved and Roe v. Wade is overturned, the Kansas GOP legislative supermajority is expected to pursue abortion bans similar to other Republican-led states.

A bill introduced earlier this year in the Legislature would do just that, except those performed to save a fetus or remove a dead fetus after a miscarriage or stillbirth. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and abortion would carry a 20-year prison sentence, among the most severe criminal penalties in the state.

“It is clear that the amendment proponents will push for a total ban on abortion as soon as possible — and with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the pregnant person — which is why it is imperative that Kansas’ constitutional protection for abortions be protected,” said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, of the Wichita-based Trust Women.

Some states already have abortion bans in anticipation of the ruling, like Arizona and Wyoming, whose laws will go into effect if the Supreme Court reverses the Roe v. Wade ruling. Earlier this year, Oklahoma approved a near-total ban on abortion, and Texas passed major abortion restrictions in 2021.

Gingrich-Gaylord said 26 states will or are likely to ban abortions outright if the draft opinion becomes official.

Gov. Laura Kelly’s campaign manager, Shelbi Dantic, said in an email to supporters that the governor will continue to oppose legislation that interferes with individual freedoms.

“Laura has always believed that every woman’s reproductive decisions should be left to her and her physician,” Dantic wrote. “Our legislative session isn’t yet over, and it’s difficult to know what will come in an election year like this one. If one thing is clear, it’s that governors will be our last line of defense.”

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the presumptive GOP challenger to Kelly in this year’s general election, said the leak of the draft opinion was “shameful” and an attempt to politicize the court.

“I will reserve comment until the Supreme Court publishes its actual decision,” Schmidt said. “But whatever the U.S. Supreme Court’s final decision regarding federal law, it will not diminish the need for Kansans who favor the protections already enacted in state law to adopt the Value Them Both state constitutional amendment in August.”

The amendment will appear on the Aug. 2 ballot. The deadline to register for the primary election is July 12.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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