Wichita, Kansas – Republican lawmakers in Kansas have introduced legislation that would ban abortions based on fertilization, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the mother.
The near-total ban is the most extreme anti-abortion legislation introduced in Kansas so far this legislative session. It comes less than six months after Kansas voters inflicted an avalanche of shocks on abortion opponents when they rejected an anti-abortion campaign measure.
And while the bill would almost certainly be overturned by Kansas courts — they’ve already ruled that the state constitution includes abortion rights — it reflects the efforts of a faction in the anti-abortion movement to pursue hardline restrictions anyway.
Rep. Brett Fairchild, a Republican from St. John and one of the bill’s seven co-sponsors, said in an email that introducing an abortion ban fulfills one of his campaign promises.
“This bill simply provides equal protection under the law for all human beings, both born and unborn,” he said.
The bill would also limit the use of fetal tissue in medical research and make it a crime to destroy fertilized embryos, which could jeopardize the legality of common fertility treatments such as IVF.
Should the bill become law, likely requiring Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to be overruled, it would be subject to immediate scrutiny by Kansas courts. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the state constitution protects abortion rights. Last year, by a formidable 19-point margin, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have eliminated those protections.
“It’s an unconstitutional bill, on the face of it,” said Teresa Woody, a longtime attorney who represents abortion providers in Kansas, also in the 2019 case.
The bill seeks to address those near-certain challenges by declaring any court decision nullifying the act itself a violation of the Kansas and United States constitutions. It also says that any judge who enjoins or strikes down the legislation is subject to impeachment and removal.
Woody said the provisions do not stand up to legal appeal and called them a “gross intrusion” into the separation of powers.
“This law is to be interpreted by the Kansas courts, because that is their job; interpret laws against the Kansas Constitution,” she said. “It would be a violation of the separation of powers if the legislature said it could control the findings and opinions of the Kansas appellate court.”
Abortion providers and reproductive rights advocates denounced the bill.
“Anti-abortion lawmakers made significant efforts in 2022 to ban abortion through a ballot measure in a special election that failed resoundingly by any measure,” said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, spokesman for the Trust Women clinic in Wichita. “Continuing to introduce anti-abortion legislation that they know will not pass constitutional appeal is a subversion of democracy and a shameful waste of taxpayers’ resources and time.”
In a statement, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes spokeswoman Anamarie Rebori Simmons said conservative lawmakers were “intentionally and continually subverting the will of voters.”
The near-total ban is a notable departure from the more measured approach presented this year by the Republican leadership and the state’s top anti-abortion advocacy group, Kansans for Life.
Jeanne Gawdun, senior lobbyist at Kansans for Life, said her lawyers had not reviewed the bill and referred to the 2023 legislative agenda in which the group outlined priorities, including funding for pregnancy centers anti-abortion.
Republicans are expected to introduce legislation that does so before long. Legislation already introduced in the Kansas Senate seeks to allow local governments to enact their own abortion bans and ban the prescribing of telehealth abortion pills.
But the near-total ban, introduced a day after hundreds of anti-abortion protesters gathered outside the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka for the state’s annual March for Life, reflects the urging of some of the movement’s most ardent members anti-abortion.
At the rally, Scott Stringfield, medical director of Choices Medical Clinic, a Wichita pregnancy center, invoked the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and urged lawmakers to move aggressively to enact abortion restrictions.
“The men who were willing to pay the price of their lives to carry out such a heinous act when they flew those planes into the Twin Towers and into the Pentagon – you have to look at one thing: they had principles. They were willing to die for what they believed in,” Stringfield told protesters from the Capitol steps. “And so I encourage you to always choose principle over pragmatism.”
Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter at @rosebconlon or email her at [email protected].
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