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How did Kansas get here: What led to the abortion amendment?

Posted at 4:14 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 17:14:28-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Voters in Kansas are one week away from learning whether a constitutional amendment protecting abortion will remain in place.

As part of KSHB 41’s coverage of this year’s primary and general elections, we’re partnering with Brad Cooper, reporter/owner of Sunflower Journal, a media outlet covering Kansas politics.

Last week, KSHB 41 anchor Taylor Hemness spoke to Cooper about next week’s amendment and what voters need to know about the issue.

You can watch their conversation below, or read the lightly edited transcript.

Taylor: What has been done in the past to limit/regulate abortion access in Kansas?

Brad: There have been a number of limits and restrictions in place, most notably during former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.

What we’re seeing today is a result of a 2015 law aimed at restricting a type of second-term abortion that was known as dilation and evacuation. You’ve heard it in this campaign as dismemberment abortion from the supporters of the amendment.

That was a first-in-the-country law passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2015. That went to court immediately.

What we’re seeing today is the end result of four to five years of litigation, which resulted in an historic Supreme Court case in which the Kansas Supreme Court found that there was a constitutional right to abortion in Kansas.

This amendment doesn’t ban abortion; it removes the constitutional right to an abortion that the Supreme Court found in the constitution.

The crux or the focus of the debate is what happens after the amendment passes?

The supporters of the amendment say it preserves restrictions and limits and restrictions that have been in place for a decade or more.

The opponents of the amendment fear it opens the door to a ban on abortion.

What the court’s decision does is gives the legislature more latitude or autonomy to pass restrictions, and that’s what we’re looking at right now.

Taylor: What has Kansas done to get ready for the vote on the constitutional amendment?

Brad: Kansas has been very different from Missouri. Kansas did not have a trigger law. The primary focus has been on this Supreme Court case from 2019.

The key point of understanding about that Supreme Court case is that by determining that there is a constitutional right to an abortion in Kansas, it raises the legal bar for challenging any restrictions that the legislature should chose to adopt.

Because it’s a constitutional right, any law or restriction passed by the legislature has to meet a strict scrutiny standard. The state has to show it had not only a compelling interest to adopt a certain restriction, but that the law was narrowly tailored to meet that compelling interest.

The supporters of the amendment are afraid that, because of that higher bar, it could ultimately end up in other restrictions that have been passed over the past decade being struck down. That’s what led to this amendment getting on the ballot.

Taylor: What has this campaign been like?

Brad: What you’re looking at is one of the most expensive primary campaigns in Kansas history. Right now, broadcast spending alone is approaching $10 million. Supporters of the amendment have raised about $6 million over the course of the year and in 2021. The opponents have raised about $7 million. You’re seeing a lot of money coming in from out of state. It’s a very pitched environment and the campaigns are running high.

Taylor: What’s been the tenor of the debate?

Brad: It’s one of the most intense campaigns I’ve ever covered. You see it marked by protests, by people who oppose it. The fever pitch on this campaign is very high compared to any other race I’ve seen.