Kansas abortion opponents divided over ‘personhood amendment’

Abortion opponent in Kansas picture

An abortion opponent stands in a silent protest outside the courthouse on March 23, 2009 in Wichita, Kansas, where George Tiller faces criminal charges in a case which activists on both side of the decades-long battle over abortion rights say is intended to send a chill through the medical community. One of the few doctors who still performs late-term abortions in the United States, Tiller has been picketed, bombed and shot in the arms. He has been demonized by abortion opponents who regularly protest outside his clinic, located just off a busy highway that runs through Wichita. (Photo credit should read JOE STUMPE/AFP via Getty Images)

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Abortion opponents who support a constitutional amendment to ban abortions in Kansas are meeting resistance from other anti-abortion groups that are pushing a different approach.

Two legislative committees have recommended lawmakers consider the issue during the 2020 legislative session. The recommendations come as lawmakers consider how to respond to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling last year that the state’s constitution guarantees a right to abortion, Kansas News Service reported . The ruling blocked enforcement of a first-in-the-nation ban on a common second-trimester procedure.

At a legislative hearing this week, some advocates pushed for a “personhood amendment” that would ban all abortions in Kansas.

“What the personhood amendment says is that we recognize the humanity of the unborn child from their earliest biological beginning,” said Bruce Garren, the chairman of Personhood Kansas.

Garren and other supporters say any other response to the state Supreme Court’s ruling would bring lengthy legal fights over abortion restrictions.

Some of the state’s largest anti-abortion groups instead want lawmakers to change the Kansas Constitution to clarify it does not include a right to abortion.

It’s not clear how much the differences in opinion will slow the push for a constitutional amendment next year. Anti-abortion legislators have generally deferred to Kansans for Life on policy issues for more than two decades, and the group is an important player in GOP politics. The group has long argued that an incremental approach helps build public support for greater abortion restrictions.

Even if a personhood amendment passed, it likely wouldn’t survive a court challenge, said Jeanne Gawdun, director of government relations with Kansans for Life. She said an amendment stating there is not right to abortion would preserve restrictions already in place and allow lawmakers to approve more of them.

“We’re interested in making a difference, and not just a statement,” Gawdun said.

A constitutional amendment would require approval from two-thirds of both the Kansas House and Senate and would then go to a statewide vote.

Former state lawmaker Chuck Weber is now executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference. He likes the idea of a personhood amendment but said it’s not a practical response.

“A personhood amendment just simply has no chance,” Weber said. “We live in a real world, and it’s not going to happen.”

Democrats on the committee objected to lawmakers taking up the issue.

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an abortion-rights supporter, said voters who don’t like court ruling can vote judges off the bench during retention elections.

And Rachel Sweet, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which provides abortion and other health services, said any abortion amendment would discriminate against women.

“The fundamental right to personal and bodily autonomy is too critical to be stripped from our state constitution,” she said, “or put to a popular vote.”

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