Last week, Dr. George Tiller’s former abortion clinic re-opened its doors to the Kansas public, a huge victory for the women in Wichita who haven’t had access to a nearby clinic since Tiller’s murder in 2009. One the heels of that step forward, however, the state’s anti-abortion lawmakers are working hard to pull Kansas yet another step back.
The Kansas legislature has approved a sweeping anti-abortion bill that would ban Planned Parenthood from teaching sex ed in public schools, require doctors to give women biased information about a disputed link between abortion and breast cancer, level costly taxes on abortion providers, and define life as beginning “at fertilization” in the state constitution. The HB 2253 measure now heads to Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who is expected to sign it into law.
According to women’s health advocates, the “personhood” clause that would redefine life at conception is one of the most problematic pieces of HB 2253. As it’s written, it acknowledges the protections under Roe v. Wade and wouldn’t ban abortions in the state immediately. But that type of language is called a “personhood trigger,” specifically intended to make it easier for the state to totally outlaw abortion services if the Supreme Court ever overturns Roe and leaves abortion rights to the states:
If the bill is signed into law, Kansas will become the eighth state declaring that life begins at fertilization, said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, which researches abortion-related laws nationwide.
While it would not supplant Kansas law banning most abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy, it does set the state up to more swiftly outlaw all abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court revisit its 1973 ruling making abortion legal, Nash said.
“It’s a statement of intent and it’s a pretty strong statement,” Nash said. “Should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade or should the court come to some different conclusion, the state legislature would be ready, willing and able to ban abortions.”
HB 2253 is a 70-page package of abortion restrictions that failed to advance last year — but, after anti-choice Republicans won big majorities in the Kansas legislature in the 2012 election, state lawmakers have been able to successfully push it through this year. Similar situations are also unfolding in Arkansas and North Dakota, where recently-elected Republican majorities have significantly advanced the anti-choice agenda with harsh abortion restrictions that directly flout Roe v. Wade.
GOP lawmakers, who have typically attempted to indirectly undermine women’s right to choose without openly challenging the constitutional right to an abortion, have become more open about their goal to strike down Roe during this legislative session. Republicans are gearing up for legal fights they hope will land the abortion issue back in the Supreme Court — and if it does, states like Kansas will be prepared to move swiftly to use their “personhood” clauses to outlaw abortion altogether.