House GOP lawmakers introduce bill imposing near-total ban on abortion in Kansas
TOPEKA — Eight Kansas House Republicans introduced a bill crafted to implement a near-total ban on clinical abortions and forbid distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to end pregnancies, while also authorizing individuals to file lawsuits against doctors and others who helped someone obtain an abortion.
Concepts folded into the 59 pages of House bill 2492 were endorsed by Reps. Trevor Jacobs of Fort Scott, Brett Fairchild of St. Johns, Randy Garber of Sabetha and others — all hardline opponents of abortion. The bill introduced Wednesday on the first day of the annual session did include an exemption allowing legal abortion for the purpose of saving the life of a pregnant woman involved in a medical emergency.
A bill criminalizing abortion was introduced during the 2023 legislative session in Kansas, but it failed to gain broad traction. These types of bills have been viewed as “messaging” tools given likelihood of a veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and the 2019 abortion decision by the Kansas Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court determined the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights included a fundamental right of women to make decisions about bodily autonomy that included termination of a pregnancy. The state Supreme Court’s decision was tied to the Legislature’s ban on a common second-term abortion procedure.
“Ultimately, I believe that we should provide equal protection under the law for all unborn children,” Fairchild said. “I believe that science proves that life begins at conception, and the government has a responsibility to protect that life from conception until natural death.”
In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court set aside nearly 50-years of precedent and overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that gave rise to a national right to abortion. The reversal meant states were free to set individual standards on reproductive health care. In Kansas, however, abortion would remain legal due to the Hodes v. Nauser decision by the state Supreme Court.
Voters in Kansas overwhelmingly decided in August 2022 to reject a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have nullified the Hodes language and would have made it easier for the GOP-led Legislature to pass abortion bans or otherwise undercut abortion rights.
Amber Sellers, advocacy director of Trust Women, said only 16 months had elapsed since Kansas voters were the first in the nation to reject a ballot measure developed to restrict abortion rights. The Value Them Both amendment was “handily” defeated by more than 20 percentage points, she said.
“Kansans spoke — loudly — on the issue,” Sellers said. “No more abortion bans. No more government barriers between pregnant people and their health care providers. No more time and resources wasted on go-nowhere bills when there are real and serious problems that our government must address for the health and safety of all of our Kansas communities.”
“It’s time for anti-abortion lawmakers to wake up, remember and finally listen to the message that voters continue to send,” she said.
Mackenzie Haddix, deputy communications director of Kansans for Life, said the new House bill had no chance of surviving in the 2024 legislative session.
“Kansans for Life is focused on what the abortion industry does not do: Showing authentic care and compassion for women facing unexpected pregnancies,” Haddix said. “Now, more than ever, is the time to focus on policies that actually save lives instead of proposals that have zero chance of becoming law and will never save a single life due to the Kansas Supreme Court’s extreme 2019 Hodes ruling.”
The bill was introduced on the same day Kansans for Life released its legislative agenda that excluded support for a potentially unconstitutional limit on abortion. The state’s largest organization said it would campaign for state statutes requiring child support to start at conception, protecting women from “coerced” abortions, safeguarding health of women with the “ultrasound safety act” and enacting “life-affirming” tax changes.
“It is clear far too many women are being pushed to believe abortion is their only choice. Our legislative agenda seeks to provide compassionate help for any woman in need,” Haddix said.
Under the House bill, Kansas would make it unlawful for a person to knowingly attempt or perform an abortion “except when necessary to preserve the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.” The state constitutional amendment rejected by Kansas voters by a 60-40 margin didn’t include such an exemption.
The new bill would make it illegal for a person in Kansas to prescribe, distribute, sell or donate mifepristone, mifegyne, mifeperex or any other similar generic abortion drug.
Civil enforcement lawsuits could be filed against people who assisted women with an abortion prohibited by Kansas law, but the woman receiving the abortion wouldn’t face liability. Physicians and others found to have broken the law would face a minimum $10,000 penalty for each abortion performed in Kansas. The House legislation would establish a six-year statute of limitations.
The bill said a medical professional would carry the burden to proof that a reasonable investigation was conducted to determine the abortion necessary to preserve the life of a woman in “imminent harm arising from the pregnancy by a physical disorder, illness or injury.”
In addition, a person named in an abortion lawsuit wouldn’t be able to rely on arguments the woman consented to the procedure or that state law limiting abortion was unconstitutional, the bill said.
The number of abortions performed in Kansas has risen as surrounding states adopted bans or substantive limitations on reproductive health care. In 2022, Kansas set a record with 8,475 abortions for women or girls residing outside the state. It was more than twice the 3,912 abortions provided out-of-state clients in 2021.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported a total of 12,318 abortions during 2022. That represented a surge from 7,849 abortions in 2021, KDHE said.