Kansas becomes first state to hold a vote on abortion rights after Roe reversal

After the Supreme Court struck down the national right to abortion access in June, the issue was returned to states, which have since implemented a patchwork of protections, restrictions or total bans. Abortion rights will now be on the ballot in at least five states this year. Ali Rogin reports from Kansas, the first state holding a vote since the end of Roe.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After the Supreme Court struck down the national right to abortion access in June, the issue returned to the states, which have since implement ended a patchwork of protections, restrictions or total bans.

    In at least five states this year, abortion rights will be on the ballot this year.

    Ali Rogin reports from Kansas, the first state holding a vote since the end of Roe.

  • Ali Rogin:

    In America's heartland, Kansas has long been a refuge for people seeking abortions. Lawmakers and local courts started expanding abortion rights in 1969, four years before Roe v. Wade.

    In 1991, anti-abortion activists descended on the clinic of Dr. George Tiller, one of only a few doctors to perform third-trimester abortions. They called it the Summer of Mercy.

  • Charles Gibson, ABC News:

    Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed in church yesterday.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And, in 2009, an anti-abortion extremist shot and killed Tiller.

    But, with a vote Tuesday, Kansans might begin a writing new chapter in the states abortion rights history.

  • Ashley Brink, Clinical Director, Trust Women Wichita:

    All eyes are kind of on Kansas right now.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Ashley Brink is the clinical director at Trust Women in Wichita, one of the state's four remaining abortion clinics and the site of Dr. Tiller's old practice.

  • Ashley Brink:

    A lot of our patients are scared. They are concerned. They are confused.

  • Ali Rogin:

    After the Supreme Court decision in June overturned Roe v. Wade and 50 years of abortion precedent, some nearby states like Missouri and Oklahoma banned the procedure.

    But the Kansas Constitution protects the state's law, allowing abortion up to 22 weeks. That's according to a 2019 ruling by the state Supreme Court. Abortion opponents say the court overstepped its bounds. Now Kansans will vote on whether or not to reject that ruling, and give only legislators power over abortion policy.

    The fight in Kansas began here at the state capitol. The Republican-controlled legislature voted to approve the constitutional amendment that appears on the ballot tomorrow. If the amendment passes, it would allow those same lawmakers to vote again to further restrict or potentially even ban access to abortion in the state.

  • Narrator:

    Unelected liberal judges.

  • Ali Rogin:

    That's leading to a fierce, expensive fight on both sides of the abortion rights debate.

  • Narrator:

    Who want to pave the way for a total ban on abortion.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Kim Biagioli is a lawyer and mother of two in the suburbs of Kansas City.

    Kim Biagioli, Volunteer, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom: I'm Kim. I'm talking to voters about the August 2 election.

  • Ali Rogin:

    She had never volunteered for a campaign before. But then the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.

  • Kim Biagioli:

    That was a very hard day. I was devastated, not surprised, but devastated.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Since then, she has been canvassing for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which supports a no vote on Tuesday.

  • Kim Biagioli:

    This is really about advocating for the future that I want for the next generation. I do not want my children entering a society where their rights can be taken away overnight on a whim by the government.

  • Person:

    You are absolutely not too late. We need a lot of help in the next few days.

  • Ali Rogin:

    A few days before the vote, the no campaign was helping new volunteers prepare to knock on doors.

  • Person:

    We have had multiple yes voters become undecided or even lean toward voting no because there is a lot of misinformation going around. And when they realize what's really at stake with the amendment, that is persuasive to some yes voters.

  • Ali Rogin:

    They say what's really at stake is a possible total ban on abortion, even though that's not in the amendment itself.

    Ashley All is the spokesperson for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom.

  • Ashley All, Kansans For Constitutional Freedom:

    This amendment gives politicians the power to pass any law they want regarding abortion, including a total ban, with no exceptions. No, it doesn't on day one ban abortion, but it gives them the power to ban it.

  • Person:

    This constitutional majority is hereby declared adopted.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Republican supermajorities in both chambers supported the amendment. And some have admitted in unguarded moments that the ultimate goal is to ban abortion.

    State Senator Mark Steffen said so in a closed-door meeting in a recording obtained by a local news site.

  • State Sen. Mark Steffen (R-KS):

    You have got to vote for this amendment, and then we will be able to make further laws, further refinement, with my goal of life starting at conception.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Ali Rogin:

    The amendment's opponents also say its language is misleading. It asks the voter to consider three statements: "The Kansas Constitution does not require government funding of abortion, nor does it create or secure a right to abortion, and that the legislature may pass abortion laws which could include exceptions for rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother."

    But Kansas already bans taxpayer funding of abortion. And even though the amendment mentions exceptions which a majority of Kansans support, it doesn't require any future law to include them.

  • Ashley All:

    It mentions certain terms that, in a lot of people's minds, when you mention those, they automatically think maybe those are protected. But that is not the case.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Amendment supporters say there's no ulterior motive. Elizabeth Kirk is a constitutional law professor at the Catholic University of America and a Kansas native.

    Why include that specific language about exceptions?

    Elizabeth Kirk, Catholic University of America: I can't speak for the legislature that passed the language, but I think to mention those exceptions is just to give, by way of example, the sorts of things, right, that Kansans typically tend to do, which is to provide for exceptions in those cases.

  • Ali Rogin:

    I think that's something that might confuse people, because if its just providing an example of something that may happen, it may not happen. There may be laws that do not provide those exceptions.

  • Elizabeth Kirk:

    If someone reads that amendment and sort of thinks its some sort of secret gotcha, I think that would be a misreading of the plain language of the amendment.

  • Neal Allen, Wichita State University:

    Going back to the time of Roe v. Wade

  • Ali Rogin:

    But some experts say the language isn't so plain. Neal Allen is chair of the Political Science Department at Wichita State University.

  • Neal Allen:

    The amendment language is clearly designed to get voters to think about something they dislike, which is state funding for abortion, and also something they like, which is exceptions to abortion restrictions.

    The amendment language may not be deliberately confusing, but it is very confusing.

  • Ali Rogin:

    The pro-amendment campaign says that to suggest its language is unclear is to take a dim view of Kansas voters.

  • Person:

    Are you planning to vote August 2?

  • Person:

    Yes.

  • Danielle Underwood, Value Them Both Coalition:

    It's wrong to tell the people of Kansas that we can't read a paragraph and understand what we are voting on.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Danielle Underwood is the spokesperson for the Value Them Both Coalition. She says the other side is misleading voters by warning of an impending abortion ban.

  • Danielle Underwood:

    We could throw out hypotheticals of what could potentially happen in future legislatures. But the essential question that's in front of Kansas voters is whether or not the people will have a say in what happens in terms of limits on the abortion industry in our state.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Underwood says the 2019 state Supreme Court ruling imperiled all existing abortion restrictions in Kansas. That includes a 24-hour waiting period, parental notification requirements, and strict health and safety guidelines.

  • Danielle Underwood:

    We have two choices ahead of us, whether we're going to have unlimited abortion happening in unregulated facilities, or we will have a state where we can keep our existing limits in place and have further discussions about what might be necessary.

  • Ashley Brink:

    This is one of our O.R.s.

  • Ali Rogin:

    The Trust Women clinic in Wichita is filled with evidence of Kansas' existing regulations. The operating rooms are built to the standards of an ambulatory surgical center, which require larger rooms and more electrical outlets than are needed for abortions.

    There's a lot of empty space in this room.

  • Ashley Brink:

    Yes.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Why is that?

  • Ashley Brink:

    You don't need much to do abortion care. It's a pretty simple procedure. But because of the ASC regulations that we have to comply with, it's a much larger room than we really need.

  • Ali Rogin:

    In the consultation room, clinics must display large-print posters that provide information designed to discourage abortions.

  • Ashley Brink:

    We have a 24-hour waiting period in the state. We have dual parental consent laws here. There are laws in place that haven't changed since the Supreme Court decision here in 2019.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Ashley All with Kansans for Constitutional Freedom says their goal is limited if the amendment fails.

  • Ashley All:

    People will be basically in the same situation they're in right now. I mean, we have access to abortion care, but we also have restrictions and reasonable regulations.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Do you anticipate there being plans to pass additional legislation to expand abortion rights in the state?

  • Ashley All:

    No. This is about protecting the access we have.

  • Ali Rogin:

    This particular debate in Kansas might be over by Wednesday morning, but the fight over the future of abortion rights is just heating up in the heartland and well beyond.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Ali Rogin in Kansas City, Kansas.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the other places where the battle over reproductive rights is taking shape is Michigan.

    Earlier today, an appellate court ruled that prosecutors can enforce the state's 1931 abortion ban. That could essentially make abortion illegal in some parts of the state.

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