Post updated at 9:05 a.m. Friday, July 22:
The future of abortion rights in Kansas will be determined by the Aug. 2 election, but due to the interconnected nature of many other social ideas, it won’t be the only right hanging in the balance, panelists said during a conversation Thursday.
The event, which was moderated by Aileen Berquist, director of policy for the ACLU of Kansas, included four panelists: Kansas Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat; Elise Higgins, director of reproductive rights at State Innovation Exchange; Sandy Brown, president of the Kansas Abortion Fund; and Donnavan Dillon, of Vote Neigh.
They discussed the impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and its implications on abortion access in Kansas and surrounding states.
Abortion as it currently stands in Kansas
Currently, people in Kansas have the right to an abortion, but that could change depending on the results of the upcoming Aug. 2 constitutional amendment vote. Francisco worried that what she had seen from the Republican majority in the Kansas Legislature during the most recent session indicated that if the amendment passes, restrictions would be inevitable.
“I’m always worried when we pass laws that restrict choice,” she said.
Even before the demise of Roe v. Wade, Kansas was a landing spot for those seeking an abortion due to strict restrictions in surrounding states, Brown said. Now, after many trigger laws banning abortion were implemented in nearby states such as Missouri, the demand for abortion services in Kansas has grown significantly.
This demand has put a burden on abortion clinics. There are four clinics in Kansas that provide abortion services, and each of them can only serve so many people in a day.
“You can see a health care system really stretched to the limits because of what is happening outside,” Brown said.
Abortion is an example of why local and state governments matter, panelists said. They pushed the community to get involved politically all across Kansas. Residents of more progressive voting counties have an even higher calling to lead discussion and action across the state, Francisco said.
“In Douglas County, we have a lot of young people and we have a lot of diversity, and I think that challenges us to think in a different way … it is a fun, energetic place to be, and part of that energy is acceptance.”
Abortion as an intersectional issue
Intersectionality — the idea that social categories overlap and are interconnected by nature — plays a role in dialogue and action regarding abortion access.
Higgins described how health care movements in the early 1990s sparked the creation of reproductive justice, a concept that centers on being holistic and inclusive in policy and action when it comes to health care and reproduction.
This shift in framework ties many ideas together, such as health care and the environment, by ensuring that everyone has the right to choose to have children or not, and to have a safe environment to raise children.
“It’s a framework that looks at the whole picture,” Higgins said. “It really specifically addresses people of color and Indigenous people who for so long have not had the right to parent their own kids.”
Reproductive justice is a movement, Dillon said — it doesn’t start or end with Roe v. Wade or the Aug. 2 elections, although both of them have major implications for the advancement of those intersectional ideas.
“With movement work, it’s important to bring people in and meet them where they’re at,” Dillon said. “That’s impossible without recognizing that we all have different situations.”
Reproductive movements look different for different people.
“If you look to southwest Kansas with a larger Hispanic population, we’re talking about areas where they have to travel an hour or two to get to a hospital,” Dillon said. “The conversation around health care and reproductive health care is a lot different than here.”
The process for engaging people in discussion on abortion health care looks different if you are engaging with college students, Indigenous people or older people because they all come with different life experiences, Dillon said.
Abortion is a multi-gendered issue as well, Dillon said. “Trans men can have children, nonbinary people can have children and that is simply a fact that you can’t dispute.”
Support from doctors and those around you also play an important role in abortion health care — but at the end of the day, everyone plays a role in movements around abortion access.
“I have done a lot of these community conversations, a lot of coffee chats and panels for the campaign, and this is the most men I’ve seen,” Berquist said, “which is amazing and I’m very glad for it. But we need to have conversations with men in our lives, because last time I checked, we don’t just get ourselves pregnant.”
Abortion as a lynchpin to other rights and protections
If abortion is part of a connected system of social structures, then increasing restrictions on it is bound to spill over to other social categories, panelists said.
In his concurring opinion in the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that other settled cases be considered by the court next. All of the cases are currently protected under the right to privacy — the same right that previously included abortion. They include protected rights to same-sex marriage and sex, as well as birth control.
“I think it goes to show that none of these issues happen in a vacuum and it goes right back to that intersectionality issue,” Berquist said.
All of these issues being interconnected requires them all to be defended individually, panelists said.
“Even though that wasn’t in the main opinion,” Higgins said, “the main opinion did a lot of damage to the right to privacy … If some of us don’t have the freedom to have the love and sex and families and communities that we want, then none of us do.”
A planned Q&A portion of the event was canceled because of a disruptive audience member.
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.