Republican-controlled House and Senate committees endorsed Wednesday a proposed Kansas constitutional amendment crafted to reverse a Kansas Supreme Court decision that a right to abortion exists in the state's Bill of Rights.
The expedited committee votes came less than 24 hours after close of a joint public hearing to gather input from dozens of legislators, lobbyists and activists from across Kansas about placing on August primary ballots an amendment declaring the court was wrong to conclude the state's foundational documents established abortion as a fundamental right.
If endorsed by two-thirds majorities in both the full House and Senate, a simple majority of Kansas voters participating in the August election would determine the outcome of the amendment. Kansas governors have no direct role in the process.
Movement of the constitutional reform coincided with the annual anti-abortion march of hundreds of people into the Capitol in Topeka.
"Thank you to everyone who walked over here," said Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican running for U.S. Senate. "We had hearings yesterday for many hours. We let proponents stand and opponents stand. And, the opponents tried scare tactics to dissuade us. We're not here to judge. We're here to protect."
She told the crowd gathered under the Statehouse rotunda the April 2019 decision by the state Supreme Court did more than block implementation of a 2015 law banning a procedure common to second-trimester abortions. The court opened the door to repeal of dozens of abortion clinic regulations passed during the past 20 years, she said.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of the archdiocese in Kansas City, Kan., said at the gathering Kansans should "correct the error, the injustice, that our Supreme Court inflicted on the people of the state."
The amendment language adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Federal and State Affairs Committee said the Kansas Constitution didn't secure a right to abortion and the state courts couldn't stand in the way of lawmakers' regulation of abortion in accordance with federal precedent of Roe v. Wade and subsequent court decisions.
Sandy Brown, director of the Kansas Abortion Fund, which provides financial assistance to women seeking to end a pregnancy, said the amendment would embed discriminatory text in the state constitution by denying people reproductive freedom.
"Kansans deserve the right to make our own personal, private medical decisions without politicians' interference," Brown said. "Our constitutional right to make decisions for our bodies, our lives and our futures should never be up for a vote."
The 6-1 majority of the state Supreme Court concluded language protecting "equal and inalienable rights" in the first section of the Bill of Rights granted a natural right of personal autonomy that included the ability to "control one’s own body" and to decide whether to sustain a pregnancy. The majority rejected the state’s argument there was no protection for abortion rights because most abortions were illegal in the Kansas Territory when the state constitution was drafted in 1859.
Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who also is seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, said in an interview at the march the amendment would likely clear the House and Senate. The statewide vote in mid-2020 might be close, Kobach said, especially if organizations from other states invested heavily in the outcome of the Kansas vote.
"Launching this battle is a critical decision," Kobach said. "We in the pro-life movement felt this was the right time and the right year. It's a presidential election year. So, the hope is that people of Kansas will be paying attention to politics and will be voting."