(Updated to include more reporting with edits throughout)
Abortion opponents’ drive to overturn a historic state Supreme Court decision that found abortion is a state constitutional right cleared a major roadblock Friday when a proposed constitutional amendment passed the House.
The vote came on the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
The amendment now goes to the Senate and, if approved, would be placed on the ballot in August 2022, a much criticized date because turnout tends to be much less than in a general election.
It was a significant victory after supporters of the amendment couldn’t muster enough votes last year to secure the two-thirds vote needed to get the bill out of the House.
But last fall’s election changed that when four moderate Republicans who opposed the amendment didn’t return to the Legislature this year and conservatives increased their numbers in the House.
The Republicans grew their supermajority to 86 members last fall, improving the odds that the amendment would pass in the House this year.
“We knew how important this was to the folks of Kansas, and their votes on Election Day proved their position and the will of the state,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said.
The amendment would give lawmakers the right to regulate abortion despite the state Supreme Court’s ruling, which set a higher judicial standard for evaluating abortion regulations passed by the Legislature.
Supporters of the amendment said the court’s decision threatened a series of abortion limits pass by the Legislature in the last decade, including clinic regulations that have been blocked in court since 2011.
The court “took away the voice of the people to be able to have a say on this issue like they do on every other issue,” said Jeanne Gawdun, lobbyist for Kansans for Life.
The amendment “gives the vote back to the people to have a voice on the isssue,” she said.
Opponents of the amendment argued that it set up the possibility that the Legislature would try to ban the procedure if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“If this amendment passes, it will give this Legislature the sole authority to regulate a medical procedure. Wherever you stand on the nature of abortion, this is an incredibly dangerous legal precedent to set,” said Democratic state Rep. Lindsay Vaughn.
“To do so, leads our state down a dark path where our legislative body can regulate the bodies of Kansans,” the Overland Park lawmaker said. “This is not our job.”
The amendment would put Kansas in position to become the seventh state to amend its constitution so that abortion is not a protected right.
Last year, 62% of Louisiana voters passed a constitutional amendment that said the right to an abortion and funding for the procedure is not allowed under the state’s constitution.
Four years ago, 59% of Alabama voters backed an amendment declaring that it was “the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful…”
An amendment in West Virginia, which passed with 52% of the vote in 2018, said that nothing in the state “constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”
Another amendment in Tennessee, which passed with 53% of the vote in 2014, was similar to West Virginia’s measure.
It said that nothing in the constitution “secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.
Gov. Laura Kelly, a staunch abortion rights supporter, said the amendment would tarnish the state’s reputation.
“I’ve always believed that every woman’s reproductive decisions should be left to her, her family, and her physician,” Kelly said in a statement.
“While I know others do not share my belief, I don’t think those supporting this amendment are aware of the consequences it will have for the state of Kansas and our reputation.”
Opponents of the amendment criticized the legislation as another step toward restricting the procedure in Kansas.
“Kansans deserve the right to make our own personal, private medical decisions without government interference,” said Rachel Sweet, regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes.
“Decisions about whether to end a pregnancy are deeply personal and should be left to a woman in consultation with her health care provider, her family, and her faith—not politicians in Topeka,” Sweet said in a statement.
“We will make sure all Kansans are aware of the repercussions of this bill at the ballot box,” she said.