Kansas Republicans introduce new abortion restrictions in the Legislature

External view of the Kansas State Capitol., with its dome and columned portico.
The Kansas State Capitol in Topeka. (Getty Images)

Even though voters in Kansas directly rejected additional abortion restrictions at the ballot box last year, Republicans in the state are pushing a rollback on reproductive rights as the new legislative session starts. This week, they introduced a bill that would allow city and county governments to initiate abortion restrictions that are stricter than at the state level.

In the first test of abortion policy since the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade last summer, Kansans voted down an amendment that would have overturned a 2019 decision by the state Supreme Court that found the state’s constitution “enables a woman to make decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life, including the decision whether to continue a pregnancy.”

The amendment sponsored by the GOP, known as Value Them Both, would not have banned abortion in the state. Instead, it would have affirmed that “there is no Kansas constitutional right to abortion or to require the government funding of abortion” and would have opened the door for the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass further restrictions.

Roughly 60% of voters opposed it, in a state where Republican presidential candidates have earned 55% of the vote in recent cycles. In November, Kansans narrowly reelected Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who had campaigned for abortion rights.

A sign in pink lettering on a black background standing in a field says: Protect HER choice & HER voice; VOTE NO! August 2, 2022.
A sign in Wichita, Kan., in August 2022 urges voters to reject a constitutional amendment on abortion. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This has not slowed Kansas Republicans. According to Senate Bill 65, the new GOP proposal, “Nothing shall prevent any city or county from regulating abortion within its boundaries as long as the regulation is at least as stringent as or more stringent than imposed by state law. In such cases, the more stringent local regulation shall control.”

“The fight for life continues in Kansas,” said GOP state Sen. Chase Blasi, who introduced the bill. “In my district, I have many constituents that are very concerned still about the unborn in our state, and so I introduced legislation today to be had with local constituents, local governments.”

Abortion is currently legal in Kansas until the 22nd week of pregnancy. There are additional restrictions on providers and funding, and minors generally need permission from both parents or legal guardians to undergo the procedure.

Anamarie Rebori Simmons, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, told Yahoo News in a statement: “The irony of this bill is too much.”

“The party that tried to remove fundamental protections from the state constitution didn’t get the outcome they wanted when Kansans overwhelmingly supported abortion access,” Simmons wrote. “This is an attempt to blatantly disregard the will of the people. Abortion rights won in a landslide, including in the home county of the bill’s sponsor. Politicians serve as the voice of the people in the Legislature, and Republican lawmakers should know better than to silence those they represent.”

A group of women, mainly past middle age, cheer and raise their hands in the air.
Supporters of abortion rights in Overland Park, Kan., on Aug. 2, 2022, cheer upon hearing that the proposed Kansas constitutional amendment has failed. (Dave Kaup/AFP via Getty Images)

State Sen. Mark Steffen introduced a separate bill earlier this month that would ban the prescription via telemedicine of abortion pills or drugs used to induce abortions.

While Kansas voters opted for abortion rights in voting down the amendment and by reelecting Kelly, Republican legislators enjoyed a comfortable 2022 midterm election, maintaining their supermajority in the Statehouse while campaigning on further restrictions of reproductive rights. With that supermajority, they can overturn any potential veto from Kelly. So a united caucus could enact whatever legislation it pleased, with or without a signature from the Democratic governor.

At a press conference last week, Senate President Ty Masterson said the chamber would be looking at a number of options regarding abortion in the state, saying he felt it was actually Democrats who supported the most radical view.

“I think probably the biggest question to be answered is: It goes to autonomy, and when does the young lady in utero receive her autonomy, and what are the rights of that person and when does that begin?” Masterson said.

Newly elected Republican state Attorney General Kris Kobach, who opposes abortion, announced last week that he was going to ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider the 2019 decision that provided abortion protections in Kansas.

“One of the things that affects any court reconsidering any precedence is intervening events. There have been intervening events,” Kobach said, referring to the reversal of Roe v. Wade.