Government & Politics

Kansas lawmakers, ahead of state Supreme Court ruling, seek amendment banning abortion

Kansas law would prohibit abortion under a state constitutional amendment sponsored by 21 lawmakers amid anticipation that the state Supreme Court may soon rule on whether the current constitution protects the right to an abortion.

The amendment – HCR 5004 – grants equal “inalienable rights, equal protection and due process of law of every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being, including fertilization.”

Proponents and opponents agree the amendment would effectively ban abortion under state law, though it would continue to be legal under federal law.

The amendment is one in a long list of proposals nationwide that have been offered over the past few decades as part of the personhood movement. Personhood supporters seek to give legal status to fetuses, often from the moment of conception.

“My purpose is to protect unborn babies and unborn children. I think they’re persons. I think life begins at conception and they should have equal protection under our constitution,” said Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha.

The amendment, introduced in the Kansas House on Monday, comes as lawmakers and others continue to wait for a decision from the state Supreme Court on whether the Kansas Constitution includes the right to an abortion.

A decision that finds the right to an abortion could open existing state-level abortion regulations to fresh legal challenges. Many abortion opponents expect that the court will find the right to an abortion when it issues its ruling.

Garber has offered the amendment before, and said he didn’t introduce it because of the expected Supreme Court decision. Still, the proposal could attract additional attention this year because of the coming ruling.

To be sure, the amendment faces several hurdles to becoming law. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate would have to approve it, and a majority of voters would have to support it during a statewide election.

“To give personhood as quickly as possible to an unborn child is the basis,” Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican and one of the sponsors of the amendment, said in explaining his support.

“To a lot of people, that seems to be the issue – I believe in personhood from conception, and other people don’t. I think that’s the issue, if we could establish that, that changes” the dynamics of the debate, Hoffman said.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains contends the legislation would outlaw abortion in all cases. The organization’s regional director of public policy and organizing, Rachel Sweet, called the amendment a “blatant attempt to eliminate a woman’s right to access safe, legal abortion.”

“Women don’t turn to politicians for medical advice, and yet extremist political ideology threatens to interfere with the fundamental right of Kansans to control our own bodies,” Sweet said.

“The saddest thing about this to me is whether you outlaw abortion only determines whether women will be safe having an abortion or not and that is why it was legalized,” said Sen. Barbara Bollier, D-Mission Hills.

Garber said the U.S. Supreme Court overstepped its authority with Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Abortion should have remained a state decision, he said.

“It doesn’t appear to be safe to me from what I hear and read all the time,” Garber said, adding that some women have died from abortions.

Abortion results in death to the pregnant woman about 0.6 times per 100,000 abortions, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. By contrast, women die giving birth 8.8 times per 100,000 live births.

Planned Parenthood noted that the bill’s 21 sponsors are all men. Garber said he “never even thought of that.”

Kansans for Life, the state’s leading anti-abortion group, would likely not actively support the amendment. KFL lobbyist Jeanne Gawdun said the organization is focused on legislation that will give courts the chance to review law that they’ve haven’t seen before – offering the chance to set legal precedents.

But, she added, the courts aren’t ready for everything.

“It’s not something we’ve ever pursued,” Gawdun said of a personhood amendment.

Kansans for Life does plan to advocate for an amendment that would say the state constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to an abortion, if the Kansas Supreme Court rules that the state constitution includes such a right.

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.