House panel also votes to advance ‘women’s bill of rights’
TOPEKA — A new bill would divert an estimated $1.7 million in state funding away from low-income families and into programs that promote childbirth, in an effort to reduce abortions statewide.
House Bill 2429, heard in the House Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, would require the Department for Children and Families to establish programs increasing awareness of abortion alternatives.
It is one of several anti-abortion bills currently introduced in the Legislature by Republicans, despite a landslide defeat in August of a constitutional amendment on abortion. Other bills include a proposed ban on an abortion pill and a tax credit proposal for nonprofit pregnancy centers.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, felt the program would help bolster adoption as an alternative to abortion.
“My husband wouldn’t be here today if he’d been aborted,” Landwehr said. “Some of these women just don’t realize how there is help for them out there to get to that path.”
The program would include resources such as pregnancy support assistance, maternity homes and adoption assistance, with the goal of having pregnant women who are considering abortion think of other options.
A nonprofit organization contracted by the state treasurer would provide these services, and DCF would coordinate with the treasurer in the program’s implementation. To fund the program, an estimated $1.7 million would be diverted from families currently receiving federal aid through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Several anti-abortion organizations spoke in favor of the bill, including Jeanne Gadwun with Kansans for Life, who said pregnancy resource centers would offer more opportunities for women.
“PRCs empower women with the support and the resources they need to not only choose life for their children, but also to improve their own lives as well,” Gadwun said.
Critics of the bill have questioned the necessity of this legislation, as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment already has a state grant program designed to help low-income women with pregnancies. The program granted $338,846 in FY 2022 to 10 agencies that provided educational and vocational support, prenatal care, and postnatal services to 834 program participants, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes spokeswoman Katie Baylie brought up the lack of oversight over the nonprofit organizations in her opposition to the proposal.
“The program would divert such funding intended to directly support the most vulnerable Kansans to anti-abortion organizations who target these individuals,” Baylie said in written testimony. “Instead of this money going to essential needs, the money, at best, would be used to coerce and mislead individuals and contribute to increased inequalities.”
The legislation doesn’t stipulate a need for the nonprofit to track funding or provide the state with data on the program’s impact. In other states where similar programs have been implemented, a lack of nonprofit regulation has led to financial abuse.
Baylie mentioned a Texas pregnancy crisis center that operated under a similar program and allegedly used state funds to travel to Vegas and buy motorcycles.
Landwehr said she and others would look into oversight measures for the proposed program.
During the meeting, lawmakers also voted to favorably pass Senate Bill 180, called a “women’s bill of rights,” out of committee. The bill, which would designate the “biological sex” of an individual at birth for purposes of applying state laws, rules or regulations, was approved by the Senate on a vote of 26-11, despite heavy opposition from Kansans who felt the legislation was sexist as well as transphobic.
The legislation would use assigned sex to decide who could use spaces such as restrooms, locker rooms and rape crisis centers, among others. Under the bill, only women with reproductive systems designed to produce ova would be allowed in these spaces, leaving out intersex and transgender women.
Rep. Christina Haswood, a Lawrence Democrat, said the bill was outdated.
“It’s 2023,” Haswood said. “Women, we are so much better than this and this bill is at its core attacking trans women. It’s very sad to see.”
The Kansas Attorney General’s Office has said the constitutionality of the legislation is likely to be challenged and the dispute could take years before validity of the law could be established through the appellate courts.
Landwehr said the bill wasn’t perfect, but it was about upholding women’s rights, and she didn’t feel transgender women were targeted by the bill.
“I really wish people would not take it that we’re targeting another group of people,” Landwehr said. “We’re just saying as women that we want to be respected. We want to be identified for the things that we have fought for and not have our rights eroded as well.”
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