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Kansas lawmakers can’t ban abortion, but here’s what they might do instead

Family Life Services in Arkansas City offers non-diagnostic ultrasounds to women who staff identify as "abortion-minded."
Rose Conlon
/
Kansas News Service
Proposed Kansas legislation would send more state money to centers that discourage women from getting abortions. Family Life Services in Arkansas City offers non-diagnostic ultrasounds to women who staff identify as "abortion-minded."

Abortion opponents want the Kansas Legislature to increase funding for anti-abortion counseling centers, begin child support at conception and ask more questions of abortion patients.

Abortion patients would have to tell Kansas officials why they’re ending their pregnancies, anti-abortion groups would get more money and pregnant women could seek child support payments if a handful of proposals in the Kansas Legislature advance this week.

The bills constitute key policy priorities of the state’s anti-abortion lobby, which says they would help support women facing unplanned pregnancies — and, consequently, make them less likely to get abortions.

Abortion rights advocates say the proposals are designed to further stigmatize the procedure and could harm women who seek it.

Lawmakers remain constrained by the Kansas Constitution, which protects abortion rights, according to a 2019 decision by the state’s Supreme Court. Voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to amend the constitution in 2022.

But there remains a strong appetite for anti-abortion policies among Republican lawmakers and groups like Kansans for Life, which have decried a surge in the number of abortions being provided in Kansas — fueled by out-of-state patients — since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Here are the proposals being considered this year.

More money for anti-abortion groups

House Bill 2789 would divert $4 million from the Kansas General Fund each year to a “pregnancy compassion program” intended to steer women with unplanned pregnancies away from abortion and toward childbirth.

The legislation would expand and rename a $2 million “alternatives to abortion” program that Kansas Republicans created through a budget item last year. It would effectively double the amount of taxpayer money going to maternity homes, adoption assistance groups and anti-abortion counseling centers across the state.

Kansas has more than 50 of the centers, which are also known as crisis pregnancy centers or pregnancy resource centers. Usually faith-affiliated, the organizations offer resources to Kansans with unplanned pregnancies including parenting classes, free baby supplies and emotional support. They also discourage women from getting abortions.

At a committee hearing on the bill, center operators told lawmakers the groups fill critical gaps in the social safety net for young and low-income mothers.

“We provide compassionate care for women who come in and are in a pregnancy crisis,” said Bridgit Smith, CEO of Insight Women’s Center in Lawrence. “They're driven by emotions, oftentimes an emotion of fear. And we provide them a safe place to talk through the options of their pregnancy.”

Family Life Services aims to dissuade people with unintended pregnancies from getting abortions.
Rose Conlon
/
Kansas News Service
Family Life Services, an Arkansas City crisis pregnancy center, aims to dissuade people with unintended pregnancies from getting abortions.

A new nonprofit run by former U.S. Sen. Tim Huelskamp, the Kansas Pregnancy Care Network, won a state contract last year to administer the existing $2 million program.

The Kansas City Pregnancy Clinic has been able to provide services to more women since it began receiving money from the program in October, according to executive director Donna Kelsey.

“We serve the poorest of the poor,” she told lawmakers. “These women are 6% (more likely to choose) abortion than women who have higher incomes.”

Abortion rights groups oppose further state funding for groups they say sometimes lie or mislead women to further their anti-abortion goals.

“Crisis pregnancy centers rely on pressure and scare tactics to coerce and intimidate pregnant people as a means of preventing them from seeking abortion care,” said Taylor Morton, a lobbyist for the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, at the bill’s hearing.

The bill would allow funds to be diverted from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which helps low-income families across Kansas, to anti-abortion organizations — as has happened in other states with similar programs.

Since Kansas TANF funds are already entirely appropriated, the bill’s fiscal note states, it could result in cuts to other TANF-funded programs.

“It feels a little hypocritical that we want to siphon funds from a federal program that benefits all low-income Kansans to a program that would only benefit people who are going through these pregnancy crisis centers,” said Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, an Overland Park Democrat.

“So we would be helping people give birth to children, but then we would not be helping them, through TANF funds, as families beyond that point,” she added.

Child support at conception

Another proposal would allow pregnant women to seek child support starting at conception — igniting concerns from abortion rights groups that the bill could establish a legal concept of “fetal personhood” that could lead to further abortion restrictions in the future.

The pair of identical bills in the House and Senate would enable a judge to order a father to make child support payments to cover a pregnant woman’s direct medical and pregnancy-related expenses.

Proponents argue that would help ease some of the financial burdens of pregnancy.

“Many women who are facing unplanned pregnancies choose abortion because of financial insecurity,” said Kansans for Life lobbyist Jeanne Gawdun at a hearing on the House bill. “They deserve the utmost help in their time of need, including support from the father of the preborn child.”

A protestor at the 2024 annual March for Life at the Kansas Statehouse holds a sign reading, "I demand protection at conception."
Rose Conlon
/
Kansas News Service
The anti-abortion movement has long sought the legal recognition of the concept of fetal personhood.

The bill also states that “the term ‘child’ includes any unborn child.” Some lawmakers expressed concern that the language could be used to codify the concept of fetal personhood into Kansas law — a long-term goal of the anti-abortion movement that’s been used to prosecute women in other states.

“Enshrining fetal personhood in our statute would have far-reaching implications on a whole host of civil and criminal laws,” said Sen. Ethan Corson, a Prairie Village Democrat, at a Senate committee hearing, “and I’m not sure the committee has a good grasp on that.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas said it has “profound concerns” about the potential of that piece of the legislation to undermine abortion rights in the future.

“By extending child support obligations to fetuses from the moment of conception, this bill stealthily aims to establish legal personhood for fetuses,” said Rashane Hamby, the group’s director of policy and research, in written testimony. “Such a move is a foundational step towards restricting access to forms of reproductive healthcare, including abortion, that are protected by the Kansas constitution.”

Proponents said protections for unborn children already exist elsewhere in state law, including criminal code allowing extra charges to be brought against someone who kills a pregnant woman.

Abortion patient questioning

A third bill would require Kansans to tell their doctor and state officials why they want an abortion.

Before doctors could provide an abortion, they would have to present patients with a list of 18 possible reasons they might be terminating their pregnancy and ask them which is most important. Clinics would then have to report that data to the state health department for biannual publication, along with more detailed demographic information about abortion patients than is currently required.

Anti-abortion advocates are backing the bill. They say data on why Kansans get abortions would help lawmakers better understand their needs and design policy to reduce abortion rates.

“We need to know the reasons why women are pursuing abortion so we can offer solutions to help them,” said Mackenzie Haddix, a lobbyist with Kansans for Life.

 Abortion providers say Kansas HB 2749 would force patients to answer invasive and unnecessary questions.
Rose Conlon
/
Kansas News Service
Abortion providers say Kansas HB 2749 would force patients to answer invasive and unnecessary questions.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican and chair of the House health committee, said she worries some women get abortions because they’re not aware they have other options.

“How do I know these women are not being coerced into actually having an abortion when they’d like to find another alternative?” she said. “I don’t because of the secrecy that is clouded within the abortion industry.”

The proposal would add to the already extensive data reporting requirements of clinics that provide abortions. It would also require that the Kansas health department publish abortion statistics twice a year instead of annually.

Abortion rights groups said the proposal was designed to harass and shame abortion patients.

“These questions are confusing and they’re stigmatizing,” said Amber Sellers, a lobbyist for the Trust Women Foundation. “They lack relevance and they’re medically unnecessary. They’re deeply invasive.”

The last large-scale national study on Americans’ reasons for having abortions was published by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, in 2005. Both supporters and opponents of the Kansas bill acknowledged that it would be useful for policymakers to have updated research.

But Rep. Melissa Oropeza, a Kansas City Democrat, said requiring all Kansans to answer the questions in order to receive care would effectively force them to participate in a large-scale research study without consent.

“For research, you have to give consent, No. 1. No. 2, if you decline, we don’t keep track of that — in an academic setting — when patients say they don’t want to participate,” she said. “The way I read this bill is that it’s requiring both without consent.”

The bill passed out of the House health committee on Monday.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.