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Kansas activists discuss abortion rights, Legislature’s response to amendment vote


Kansas activists discuss abortion rights, Legislature’s response to amendment vote

Mar 27, 2023 | 10:04 am ET
By Rachel Mipro
Kansas activists discuss abortion rights, Legislature’s response to amendment vote
Chloe Chaffin, facing the camera, appears with Kansas Reflector reporter Rachel Mipro for a podcast recording on March 23, 2023, at the Kansas Reflector office in downtown Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Legislature may not respect the public’s stance on abortion, but reproductive rights advocates find hope in knowing the record turnout Aug. 2 to defeat the constitutional amendment on abortion was fueled by young voters who are likely to keep voting. 

During a recording for the Kansas Reflector podcast, Chloe Chaffin, program lead for Loud Light and the chapter president of Washburn Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, along with Leslie Butsch, field director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, talked about anti-abortion bills advanced by Republican lawmakers. 

“We knew that after August 2, they weren’t going to say, ‘OK, you know, we tried it. And it’s clear that Kansans feel this particular way. And now we’re just going to respect that and leave it on the table.’ We knew that they were going to come back and continue to try to chip away at abortion rights,” Butsch said.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on the right to abortion in 2019 in the Hodes and Nauser v. Schmidt case, and a proposal to nullify the court’s opinion with a constitutional amendment was shot down by voters in a 2022 statewide vote that was widely seen as a landmark win for reproductive freedom in the state.

Chaffin and Butsch, who both campaigned against the amendment, said Kansans made their decision clear. Chaffin said the flurry of new abortion legislation doesn’t reflect the will of the people.

“To now come back and say that folks didn’t know what they were voting on and that’s why they are justifying all these new bills to restrict the right to abortion in the state of Kansas, I just think that that is a little bit disingenuous,” Chaffin said. “It just hurts my heart as a Kansan, frankly.”

Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced legislation on a disputed “abortion reversal” process, limits on telemedicine abortion pill prescription, crisis pregnancy center funding, and a general abortion pill ban, among other bills.

On Friday, the Kansas House overwhelmingly approved legislation requiring health professionals to give emergency medical care to infants who have a pulse or are breathing after being “born alive” during an attempted abortion, under threat of criminal prosecution. Critics say the bill unnecessary because no one is killing infants.

“This bill is absolutely propaganda and not based in medical science,” Butsch said. “This bill is something that we’ve seen across the country. It’s something that my friends in Missouri have seen. It’s a tool to rile up language and people’s fears around abortion care.”

Kansas activists discuss abortion rights, Legislature’s response to amendment vote
Leslie Butsch shows off her “no” tattoo, inspired by last year’s defeat of a constitutional amendment on abortion, before a podcast recording on March 23, 2023, at the Kansas Reflector office in downtown Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

During discussion of the bill, several Republicans spoke about their hatred of abortion. Rep. Trevor Jacobs, R-Fort Scott, called abortion “barbaric murder.” Rep. Bill Clifford, R-Garden City, said providing women abortion services was a “ghastly” path for physicians to take. 

In his Friday newsletter, House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said he was proud of House Republicans for protecting infants.

“This bill is about having empathy and compassion for the life of a child who has been delivered alive,” Hawkins said. “As a moral and civil society, we have a fundamental responsibility to care for these infants once they have been born.”

In his newsletter, Hawkins also called the Hodes and Nauser abortion ruling an attempt to chip away at the Kansas Constitution by the “the woke left and activist judges.” The high court on Monday is hearing renewed challenges to the case.

Critics say the GOP bills are anti-abortion, but not pro-child. One bill pioneered by Republican lawmakers would divert an estimated $1.7 million in state funding away from low-income families and into programs that promote childbirth.

The “abortion reversal” bill would require abortion pill providers to tell people undergoing medication abortions that the abortion could possibly be reversed, if action is taken in time. The “reversal process” isn’t based in science and bill opponents say the process could cause dangerous hemorrhaging if attempted.

“I think that that language is just dripping with guilt and accusation on the part of the lawmakers trying to tell people that they don’t know what’s best for them, which I think is such a shame,” Chaffin said of the bill.

Butsch said politicians could show they actually cared about Kansas children by passing reforms that helped families. 

“Politicians in Topeka have a variety of ways to show that they value children and families and that includes things like expanding Medicaid or axing the food sales tax or making sure that our public schools are protected,” Butsch said. “We are seeing them chip away at all of those things that could actually have a real impact in the life of Kansans.”

While the two said fighting for reproductive freedom can be mentally draining, they felt encouraged by how much people care about the issue, particularly young Kansans.

Chaffin said they, along with other young Kansans, have become energized in politics because of the ongoing reproductive debate.

“Since we are getting people in the gate so early, these folks are going to be in the advocacy pipeline their entire lives,” Chaffin said. “And so that’s at the end of the day, what’s been giving me hope.”