LAWRENCE — Leslie Butsch is optimistic that affinity for self-determination in decisions about medical care will doom any Kansas constitutional amendment seeking to limit access to abortion.
Potential of Republican-led forces in the House and Senate placing an amendment on 2020 ballots escalated since the Kansas Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion in April declaring the Kansas Constitution protected a woman's right to an abortion. The justices said Kansans had a right to make their own "decision regarding their bodies, their health, their family formation and their family life."
One faction of the pro-life movement prefers an amendment to essentially reverse the Supreme Court, while another faction would like to go further by including "personhood" language in the amendment in a bid to bar all forms of abortion in Kansas.
"I believe that we can defeat this amendment," said Butsch, an organizer with Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, which operates in Kansas and Missouri. "This is about personal autonomy and about being able to make decisions for yourself without the government being involved."
Butsch's talking-point argument set forth during a Saturday meeting of the Douglas County Democratic Party included the view that amendment advocates were seeking to remove, rather than protect, individual rights of Kansans. A constitutional amendment would put to public vote the ability of pregnant women to make personal health decisions in consultation with family members, doctors or faith leaders, she said.
"Politicians are, once again, proposing to deprive only some individuals in the state of these basic rights," Butsch said. "I would argue that our rights should not be up for a vote."
An interim committee of the Kansas Senate recommended in October that lawmakers take up the divisive issue during the legislative session starting in January.
The political math at the Capitol suggests proponents of an amendment aimed at restraining abortion could muster the required two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate. Unlike a routine bill, Kansas governors have no veto power over constitutional propositions. A majority vote of Kansans participating in the statewide vote, in either August or November, would decide the question.
Chuck Weber, a former GOP legislator who works with the Kansas Catholic Conference, said an amendment clarifying the state constitution didn't guarantee a right to abortion was necessary. Injection of personhood into the equation might be politically risky, he said.
"The people of Kansas have a remedy for the unfettered abortion on demand which the Supreme Court has foisted on the state, and that is to reverse the court's ruling by a constitutional amendment," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life.
However, anti-abortion activist Pat Goodson said a personhood provision was essential to properly recognize a fetus as an unborn child on par with human persons and to strike a decisive blow against the abortion industry.
"Humanness is not determined by appearance, age or location, but by DNA," said Goodson, founder of Right to Life of Kansas. "A personhood amendment is the only way to legally counteract the evil of abortion."
The Supreme Court took up the issue through appeal of a Shawnee County district judge's decision to block a 2015 law on abortion passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Sam Brownback. The statute prohibited use of a procedure frequently relied upon in second-trimester abortions unless used to prevent impairment or to save the life of a mother or when a fetus was already deceased.
The law, first of its kind in the United States, was directed at a medical procedure known as "dilation and evacuation," but also referred to as "dismemberment" abortion.
A majority of the Supreme Court pointed to the first section of the state's Bill of Rights, which speaks to inalienable natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
"We are now asked," the court's majority wrote in the opinion, "is this declaration of rights more than an idealized aspiration? And, if so, do the substantive rights include a woman's right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy? We answer these questions, 'Yes.' "
Brittany Jones, an attorney with the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said the Supreme Court's position had application beyond the abortion procedure at the center of the court case. It raises questions about boundaries of personal autonomy, she said.
"This case could open the door for an absolute right to assisted suicide, recreational marijuana, gender transition surgeries paid for by the government," Jones said. "It is paramount that the Kansas legislative body work to reverse this specific ruling by passing a constitutional amendment to restore the rule of law."