Two Lawrence-area legislators on Thursday shared some concerns they have looking ahead to the Aug. 2 election, when Kansans will decide whether to remove the protection of abortion from the state’s constitution.
Sen. Marci Francisco and Rep. Christina Haswood, both Lawrence Democrats, spoke during the League of Women Voters of Lawrence/Douglas County’s virtual Hot Topic meeting. Francisco has served since 2005 and Haswood was elected in 2020. They shared their perspectives and knowledge based on their experiences at the Statehouse.
Currently, Kansans have a constitutionally protected right to abortion. But an amendment, which proponents have labeled “Value them Both”, would take that right away and allow Kansas politicians to ban abortion. Despite the language of the amendment, a ban could apply even in situations of rape or incest, or if a pregnancy is life-threatening.
The amendment is on the ballot for the Aug. 2 primary election, and the timing of the vote itself was concerning to Haswood.
“This was on the August ballot instead of the November ballot, and that was very, very intentional,” she said. “And the way I see it is that (in) August, the students aren’t back in town yet. They’re probably on vacation, so voting is the last thing on their minds.”
Kansas primary elections historically tend to see lower voter turnout, and they are usually partisan races. The amendment will be on Republican and Democratic ballots, but unaffiliated and independent voters will also have the opportunity to vote on it. They do not need to declare a party to cast their vote on the amendment.
Haswood said a lot of college students probably don’t realize that they can register and vote in Kansas, even if their families live elsewhere. While she was attending Arizona State, she said, she chose to register to vote there instead of in Kansas.
Students attending college in Kansas — and any other Kansans — can register online as Kansas voters and request ballots to be mailed to their summer addresses ahead of the election, though the Tuesday, July 12 registration deadline is quickly approaching. Advance voting begins and ballots will be mailed out starting July 13.
The amendment would not immediately ban abortions in Kansas, but if it does pass, politicians would likely move quickly to pass bills like one proposed last session that would have criminalized physicians and patients. An audience member asked about the potential for the Legislature to call a special session if the amendment does pass.
Haswood echoed the concern. “One of my worries is that August 2 happens and then August 3, we’re going to be back in the Legislature voting on things,” she said, and asked Francisco for her thoughts.
After a pause, Francisco said, “Well, I wouldn’t put it past them. Which is why it’s really important to get as many people out as possible to vote who understand this issue.”
Francisco shared some of the history of abortion laws in the state. She highlighted laws that already regulate abortion in Kansas and shared some information about previous legislation that has been struck down, including some that did not deal directly with patient — one bill, for instance, regulated how wide the hallways of abortion clinics must be and how clinic temperatures needed to be set.
“Clearly, those regulations were being imposed to make it more difficult for clinics to operate,” she said, “and there really was not a reason that an abortion clinic had to have different standards than are applied to other medical procedures.”
In 2015, Kansas legislators passed another law that made it illegal for physicians to provide dilation and extraction, or D & E, abortions. The procedure is rare and usually only necessary when a pregnancy threatens the patient’s life. A preliminary report from the state shows that the D & E method accounted for 6.1% of abortions in Kansas in 2021.
The law was an attempt to ban abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy — but it was struck down after two physicians filed a lawsuit challenging it.
“The two obstetricians that filed a case against this argued that Kansas was still allowing second trimester abortions — they were only restricting the safest method for such an abortion,” Francisco said. “So this sparked the ruling by the Supreme Court that, indeed, the Kansas Constitution gave bodily autonomy to women, including the right to an abortion.
“The pro-life movement described this as a discovery and a new right,” she continued. “I believe that it was simply recognizing the rights that exists in our constitution.”
That right is not absolute. The court did not say the state cannot regulate abortion — it only said that there must be a compelling state interest in regulations that are put in place, such as standards for health care, and those regulations must be narrowly tailored to further that interest, Francisco said.
She said when she talks to people about this issue, she notes that the amendment on the Aug. 2 ballot is a change to the state Bill of Rights.
Haswood said another concern she had was about the social service programs currently in place in Kansas.
“We want to avoid at all costs for a child to go into the Kansas foster care system,” Haswood said. “It’s a broken system.”
She said any effort in the Legislature to expand family programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) “is not met with compassion.”
“We don’t have a system in place for this increase of population,” she said.
Another audience member asked about a statement often made by people who oppose abortion rights that “life begins at conception.”
“This is different in different religions, and so we are not respecting other views about when life begins,” Francisco said.
Haswood agreed. “As a legislator, I don’t feel comfortable making that law, that ‘this is going to be where life starts.’ Who am I to say?” she said.
The conversation was recorded to be posted on the LWVL-DC YouTube page in the near future.