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Four Kansas Republicans Stopped their Party's Anti-Abortion Amendment, but GOP Says Fight Isn't Over

Abortion opponents marching at a rally last month. (Photo by  Daniel Caudill, Kansas News Service)

TOPEKA, Kansas — The Kansas House narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment Friday that would have said there’s no right to abortion in the state constitution.

After the defeat, Republican leaders promised this “was just the beginning.”

“Don’t be surprised when it comes up again because it will come up again this session,” House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said after the vote.

The final count was 80-43, just short of the 84 votes needed to put the issue on a statewide ballot vote where Kansans could reject it or add it to the state constitution.

Four Republicans split from the rest of their party and voted against the amendment.

Republican leaders used a procedural move to hold the vote open for about six hours in an attempt to gain enough support, but it ultimately didn’t garner any additional votes.

Republican Rep. Don Hineman opposed putting the issue up to a statewide vote in August and said the amendment should be rewritten with the vote held instead during the general election in November.

“Throughout my 12-year legislative career, I’ve maintained a staunch pro-life record,” he said during the vote. “My ‘no vote’ today is not in contradiction to that.”

The fight came in reaction to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling last year that said women have a right to abortion protected in the state constitution. In response, abortion opponents moved to change the constitution to specifically say the state promises no right to abortion and it can be regulated by lawmakers.

Both sides agreed the stakes were high. Supporters of the amendment said that the right to abortion recognized by the Kansas high court could be used to knock down abortion restrictions already in state law. They include clinic regulations and a ban on most abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Critics of the amendment argue it ultimately could have far-reaching consequences beyond simply protecting restrictions in state law.

“It strips a subset of Kansans of their constitutional rights,” Democratic Rep. Stephanie Clayton said.

Right now, there are protections for abortion rights at the federal level and the state level. The constitutional amendment would eliminate any state-level protections.

If the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is overturned, that would eliminate the protections on the federal level and potentially open the door to a state-level ban on abortion.

The influential group Kansans for Life announced it would oppose Medicaid expansion until the constitutional amendment was approved by lawmakers and sent to a statewide ballot vote.

“For years, we have taken great pains to stay out of the Medicaid Expansion fray,” KFL’s Director of Government Relations Jeanne Gawdun said. “However, recent court rulings could force state taxpayers to subsidize the abortion industry through Medicaid and other sources.”

That adds a new wrinkle to the political dynamics, because expansion is a top priority for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and many lawmakers in both parties. It could potentially offer health care coverage for more than 130,000 low-income Kansans.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle took procedural moves after the House vote to block Medicaid expansion. She said the Senate would not take it up until the amendment passed.

“This vote,” Wagle said, “just completely changed the course of the 2020 legislative session.”

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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