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Kansas Legislature sends governor bill outlawing abortion coercion with maximum 25-year sentence


Kansas Legislature sends governor bill outlawing abortion coercion with maximum 25-year sentence

Apr 01, 2024 | 5:50 pm ET
By Tim Carpenter
Kansas Legislature sends governor bill outlawing abortion coercion with maximum 25-year sentence
Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, questions Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, R-Ottawa, about a bill creating the felony crime of abortion coercion Monday during House consideration of the measure. It passed the House 82-37 after clearing the Senate 27-11. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Legislature gave final approval to legislation Monday creating the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion aimed at compelling a woman to end a pregnancy despite her expressed desire to give birth.

The measure forwarded to Gov. Laura Kelly would set sentences broadly at a maximum of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, but the Senate’s rewrite of House Bill 2436 would allow a maximum of one year of incarceration and a $10,000 fine if instigator of the pressure campaign was the fetuses’ father, and at least 18 years of age, and if the pregnant female was less than 18.

Under special circumstances, the bill would enable the court to impose a 25-year sentence if the coercion was committed in conjunction with stalking, blackmail, criminal threat, domestic battery, kidnapping, assault, human trafficking, rape or more than 15 other criminal offenses.

“If a woman has expressed her desire to continue the pregnancy and someone threatens her, whether it is to harm her physically, whether it’s to harm her financially, or whether it is to hold documentation in the case of someone who is being trafficked, that would now be punishable as a crime,” said Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, R-Ottawa.

The bill was adopted last week 27-11 by the Senate, which was the bare minimum two-thirds majority that would be necessary to override a veto by Kelly. The House concurred on a vote of 82-37, which was two short of a supermajority capable to thwarting a veto.

“I wholeheartedly support this bill,” said Rep. Susan Estes, R-Wichita. “But I have to tell you how horribly sad it makes me that we need this bill. We need to protect our young people and I think this bill accomplishes that.”

Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, D-Lenexa, said she was disappointed House and Senate negotiators didn’t have an opportunity to modify the bill. She said the phrase “putative father,” or the person commonly accepted as the father, wasn’t defined in the state’s criminal code.

In addition, Hoye said the definition of “adverse financial” harm related to abortion coercion wasn’t clear in the bill. She said it could be interpreted to include the cost of a divorce if there was evidence of coercion about ending the pregnancy.

“I do believe that divorce would fall under this category,” Hoye said. “If you don’t agree on a pregnancy outcome for abortion, I do think that should be able to be cause for divorce. I don’t think that we should create a crime that would charge somebody if they just say, ‘Hey, if you don’t get an abortion, we’re going to get divorced.’ I think that does go too far.”

She said the special sentencing rule linking the coercion to another crime existed in only one area of Kansas law — if a person committed a crime with knowledge the victim was a law enforcement officer.

Rep. Ford Carr, a Wichita Democrat, said if the bill became state law there would be unintended consequences. He said he could imagine a man telling a woman their relationship would end if she chose to carry a fetus to term. He said a vindictive woman could later seek criminal charges under a coercion statute.

“Quite honestly, often times they’re scared at the sound of, you know, ‘There’s going to be another life that is going to be a part of this and I’m not ready for it. I had dreams and I had aspirations, and this wasn’t part of it. Then, you’re welcome to go that direction on your own, but I don’t want to.’ Could a vindictive mother, could she then enact this and say that this was a definition of coercion?  I think this is just a bridge too far,” Carr said.

Schmoe, who carried the bill on the House floor, said that if the mother in the hypothetical offered by Carr concluded she was coerced, she could approach law enforcement officers and a prosecutor would have to determine whether sufficient evidence existed to file charges under the statute. Every case would have to work its way through the court system and wouldn’t grant a “vindictive mom” an unfettered right to abuse the legal system, she said.