Gov. Kelly: Abortion amendment would put Kansas in ‘the Dark Ages’

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly discusses a proposed amendment to the state constitution on abortion during a news conference, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The Democratic governor opposes the amendment, which would overturn a Kansas Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights, saying it would return the state "to the Dark Ages" and harm its economy. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly declared Thursday that a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution would return the state “to the Dark Ages” and called it a political attack on women’s rights that will hurt the state’s business climate.

Kelly, a strong supporter of abortion rights elected in 2018, has no formal role as the Republican-controlled Legislature considers putting the proposed amendment on the ballot for possible approval by voters. The measure would overturn a Kansas Supreme Court decision last year declaring access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state’s Bill of Rights.

The Democratic governor had a Statehouse news conference a day after the Senate approved the measure and sent it to the House. It’s not clear that abortion opponents have the two-thirds majority needed there to get the measure on the ballot in the August primary election as planned.

Kelly said the proposed amendment attacked “fundamental American freedoms that should never be subject to a vote.”

“They are foundational to who we are as a state and as a nation,” Kelly said. “I fear for a future in which the Legislature chooses to stand between a woman and her doctor. This would throw the state back into the Dark Ages.”

Republicans and anti-abortion groups pushing the amendment immediately called their own news conference to answer the governor. They portrayed Kelly as opposing “protections for both women and their babies” because she voted consistently against abortion restrictions as a state senator before being elected governor.

“Gov. Kelly is very concerned about women’s rights. She’s concerned about the mom’s heartbeat,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who led anti-abortion forces in her chamber’s debate. “And we stand here as the pro-life community concerned about two heartbeats, the mom and the baby inside the womb.”

Kelly did not say whether she’d take steps other than publicly expressing her opposition to the proposed amendment and urging lawmakers to vote against it. But her comments could help solidify Democrats against the measure, making it trickier for GOP leaders to get it through the House.

The proposed amendment would give the Legislature the authority to regulate abortion as it sees fit, consistent with federal court decisions. Anti-abortion groups and lawmakers fear that without a constitutional change, the Kansas Supreme Court will strike down a raft of restrictions that would or have withstood federal court challenges.

“We are not banning abortions,” said Rep. Susan Humphries, another Wichita Republican, suggesting that the danger of not acting is “unregulated abortion.”

The proposal is modeled after an amendment that Tennessee’s voters added to their state’s constitution in 2014, though the language is not identical. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, announced last week that he would pursue legislation to ban most abortions.

A similar 2019 law in Georgia, a burgeoning hub for film and TV production, drew condemnation from Hollywood writers and celebrities. The law has been blocked by a federal judge.

Kelly said the Kansas amendment would “make companies think twice about coming here.”

“This only creates another hurdle for businesses interested in recruiting talented young people to our state,” she said.

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