‘August was not a fluke’: Kansas advocates warn against raft of bills limiting reproductive rights

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TOPEKA — Since the end of Roe v. Wade in 2022, Kansas has become one of the few states left in the region that protects abortion rights. Unable to change state constitutional protections, some lawmakers are now doing their best to discourage abortion through a slew of legislation instead.

During a Tuesday lobbying event, a coalition of reproductive rights groups set up tables to talk about the cause and combat more than 10 anti-abortion bills.

“A right is a right, and we are going to continue to elevate that message to the legislators until they recognize that and that we see it in policy,” said Amber Sellers, advocacy director with Trust Women, one of the groups present Tuesday. 

State law allows abortions up to 22 weeks after gestation and after that if the mother’s life is in danger. The Kansas Supreme Court in 2019 determined the state constitution’s right to bodily autonomy extends to the decision to terminate a pregnancy, and voters in August of 2022 overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion without exception.

“August was not a fluke,” Sellers said. “August was the official declaration of Kansans, saying that ‘my right is my right and my choice is my choice.’ Our legislature needs to recognize that and respect that.” 

Sen. Usha Reddi, D-Manhattan, said the Legislature should respect the public’s stance on abortion. 

“Kansas overwhelmingly said yes, we need reproductive health care for women, and we need to have those rights where we can decide with our medical professionals, not just based on ideology,” Reddi said. “I don’t want us to go backwards.” 

Bills under the dome

Legislation up for debate ranges from child support for fetuses to tax breaks to crisis pregnancy centers to mandated ultrasounds. 

House Bill 2749, which has been sent to the House floor, would require abortion providers to report reasons for abortion. Senate Bill 528 and House Bill 2814, which both remain in committee, would require anyone seeking an abortion to undergo an obstetric ultrasound beforehand.

Senate Bill 527 and House Bill 2813, also in committee, would create the new crime of coercing a pregnant woman to get an abortion, if the women has said she does not want an abortion. The bill would make this a felony, with a minimum sentence of 30 days of imprisonment and a fine of $500 to $5,000. If the father commits coercion, the fine would be higher, with a minimum 90-day sentence and a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.  

House Bill 2789, in committee, would divert $4 million annually from the state general fund into a  “pregnancy compassion program fund,” starting in fiscal year 2024. The bill also creates the “pregnancy compassion program” and the “pregnancy compassion public awareness program,” which would both promote childbirth to women facing unplanned pregnancies, as well as provide resources. 

House Bill 2809, in committee, would create the “every mom matters act,” and require the state treasurer to work with pregnancy centers on providing supplies and information to pregnant women and parents considering adoption.

Senate Bill 498, discussed Tuesday in committee, would create the “pregnancy resource act,” allowing contributions to crisis pregnancy centers and maternity centers to receive a 70% tax credit, starting in tax year 2024, and gives a sales tax exemption to these organizations.. House Bill 2764, in committee, provides the same tax break.

House Bill 2653 and Senate Bill 435, in committee, would allow pregnant women to claim child support for medical and pregnancy-related expenses, starting any time after the date of conception. 

Reproductive rights advocates call in blatant attempts to sneak the anti-abortion concept of “fetal personhood” into the state, where Kansas voters have previously upheld abortion rights. Fetal personhood is the idea that life begins at the fertilization of an egg and that fetuses should be given legal rights and protections.

“I talk to Kansans every day who value life and who want to support moms and babies, said Brittney Jones, director of Policy and Engagement for Kansas Family Voice. “I think if you talk to most Kansans, that’s actually what they want.” 

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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