Kansas advances anti-abortion measure on Roe anniversary

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Kansas state Reps. Brenda Landwehr, left, R-Wichita, and Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, confer during a House debate on a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Both supported the measure, which would overturn a Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 that declared access to abortion a "fundamental" right under the state constitution. (AP Photo/John Hanna, Pool)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Republicans on Friday pushed a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution through the state House, a bitter reminder of election setbacks for abortion rights Democrats on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

The vote was 86-38 on a measure that would overturn a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that declared access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state's Bill of Rights. Abortion opponents had two votes more than the two-thirds majority necessary for passage, sending the proposal to the Senate, where a debate could occur as early as next week.

The measure would add language to the state constitution declaring that it grants no right to abortion and that the Legislature can regulate abortion in line with U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The measure is not a state abortion ban, but it could allow one if a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights.

“I think it’s about as ugly as you can get,” said Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat who supports abortion rights.

Republicans said the timing of the debate was a coincidence, but abortion rights Democrats, particularly women, saw it as a pointed message that GOP legislators and anti-abortion groups intend to keep moving toward a state ban. A similar proposal failed last year in the House when four GOP members objected, and elections last year left the Republican supermajority more conservative.

“It’s remarkable and it shows you that Kansas, that we are a pro-life state,” said Rep. Tori Arnberger, a Republican from the central Kansas town of Great Bend, who led the anti-abortion side during the debate.

Anti-abortion lawmakers said that if the Kansas court decision stands, two decades' worth of restrictions on abortion enacted with bipartisan support could fall in state court challenges.

The 2019 ruling put on indefinite hold a law banning a common second trimester procedure — designated as “dismemberment abortion” in its language. Special health and safety standards for abortion providers, described by them as unnecessary and burdensome, have been on hold since 2011 because of a lawsuit.