Kansas voters will weigh directly on abortion rights next month

Kansas voters will be the first to have their say on whether abortion should remain constitutionally protected in the state since Landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision overturned.

Since the Supreme Court overturned the nearly 50-year-old ruling in June, lawmakers in more than a dozen Republican-controlled states have already moved to ban or further restrict access to abortion – and further efforts are expected. The court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaves it up to states to decide whether abortion remains legal.

In Kansas, the right to abortion remains protected – at least for now.

In 2019, the state Supreme Court ruled that personal autonomy is protected in the state constitution’s bill of rights and applied strict scrutiny to abortion regulation. An amendment should be passed to remove this constitutional right.

The “Value Them Both” amendment will appear on the August 2 primary ballot. A “yes” vote for the amendment would affirm that there is no constitutional right to abortion in Kansas and allow the Republican-controlled state legislature to pass new laws further restricting or even prohibiting access to abortion. A “no” vote against the amendment upholds the state’s protected right to abortion.

The amendment was proposed by the state legislature and put to a vote in January 2021 with two-thirds of the vote in both houses. A previous effort to get an abortion amendment on the ballot failed in February 2020 after several Republicans joined Democrats in blocking it at the Kansas House.

“When you read the wording of the amendment, it’s so clear that it’s not a ban on abortion. It just puts the power back in the hands of the people instead of taking us out of the discussion altogether. “said Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Value Them Both. Coalition, which includes anti-abortion rights groups Kansans for Life, Kansas Catholic Conference and Kansas Family Voice.

They have been reluctant to say publicly exactly what abortion restrictions they would like to see passed by the Kansas Legislature if the amendment passes. But legal experts say the amendment paves the way for the state to ban abortion.

“What’s misleading is people saying ‘well, that will just allow for a debate’ and suggesting there might be a reasonable discussion about it,” said Stephen McAllister, a law professor at the University of Kansas, who worked for Judge Clarence Thomas. “It’s really a referendum on whether we’re going to let the legislator ban abortion or not.”

McAllister said if the amendment passes, he expects the Legislature to propose bans beginning on the first or second day of the next legislative session in January. A ban with very limited exemptions was already introduced in March this year.

“According to the wording of the amendment, it would be possible to adopt a total ban on abortion from the point of conception until birth without exception for rape, incest, for the life and health of the mother “, said the constitutional law of the University of Kansas. Professor Richard Levy.

Although abortion is currently protected in Kansas, there are multiple regulations in place, some of which have not been challenged. Abortion is strictly limited after 22 weeks, except when the woman is in serious physical danger. Patients seeking an abortion must also undergo an ultrasound and counseling and wait 24 hours. The use of telemedicine to administer an abortion is prohibited. Patients under 18 must obtain parental consent.

According to a Kansas Department of Health and Environment report, nearly 70% of abortions performed in Kansas in 2021 occurred before nine weeks. Just over 20% occurred between 9 and 12 weeks. Only 3.8% occurred between 17 and 21 weeks.

“The point is, the ‘no’ in Kansas is an in-between vote. It’s a moderate stance. It’s basically leaving all the regulations in place,” said spokesperson Ashely All. for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the main coalition opposing the amendment.

The organizations are spending millions advertising in the state for and against the amendment. According to AdImpact tracking, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom spends more than $4.7 million on ads against the amendment; Value Them Both is spending more than $3.7 million on ads in support of the amendment. Three other anti-abortion rights groups also spend more than $915,000 combined on ads in the state.

Putting the amendment on the primary ballot rather than the November general election ballot has fueled concerns among those who support abortion rights and oppose the amendment. More Republican voters are expected to turn out in August because Republicans have a more contested primary election. In 2020, turnout in the primaries was less than half of what it was in the general election in the state.

Democratic Governor Laura Kelly and her likely GOP opponent are on opposite sides of the issue. Kelly said she believes reproductive decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor. In an email to CBS News, his campaign spokeswoman Madison Andrus said the governor “will continue to oppose any regressive legislation that interferes with individual freedoms or threatens the progress we’ve made in recent times. years to make Kansas a constructive place to do business. This includes opposing efforts to amend the state constitution in August.”

When Roe was unseated, Republican Kansas Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt said in a statement that he preferred a future with “less abortion, not more” and would vote for the amendment. He did not specify what legislation he would like to see if the amendment passes.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Kansas has seen an uptick in voter registrations. According to vote.org, the state saw a 963% increase in the number of individuals beginning the voter registration process through the organization’s website compared to the two weeks prior to the June 24 court ruling. But it is unclear whether those who signed up were for or against the amendment.

If the amendment passes, Kansas will join four other states that have constitutional amendments declaring that the state constitution does not protect the right to abortion. Those states, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia, all moved to ban or further restrict abortion following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe.

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