Kansas’ governor vetoes a bill for extending child support to fetuses

photo by: Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a rally on March 6, 2024, in Topeka.

TOPEKA — Kansas’ Democratic governor on Friday vetoed a bill aimed at ensuring that child support payments cover fetuses, a measure critics saw as a move by anti-abortion groups toward giving them the same rights as the mothers-to-be carrying them.

The measure scuttled by Gov. Laura Kelly was similar to a Georgia law and measures introduced in at least five other states, according to an Associated Press analysis using the bill-tracking software Plural. Supporters in the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature argued that they were trying to make sure that the costs associated with a pregnancy and a birth are covered.

But Kelly, a strong supporter of abortion rights, called the measure “a blatant attempt” by “extreme” lawmakers to control women’s and families’ private medical decisions. She also said it conflicts with the will of voters statewide, who affirmed abortion rights in August 2022 — three years after the Kansas Supreme Court declared that the state constitution protects access to abortion as part of a “fundamental” right to bodily autonomy.

“Kansans already made it very clear that they don’t want lawmakers involved in personal matters,” Kelly wrote. “It’s time we listen to them.”

The Legislature has long had supermajorities that oppose abortion and GOP lawmakers this year overrode Kelly’s vetoes of four other measures backed by anti-abortion groups.

“Now she won’t allow women to have the potential for additional child support,” said Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, the state’s most politically influential anti-abortion group. “This will not deter those of us who actually have compassion for women in difficult situations.”

Legislators cannot consider overriding the latest veto because they adjourned their annual session May 1 — though they could pass another version during a special session Kelly has promised to call on cutting taxes.

Under the bill, judges would have had to consider the “direct medical and pregnancy-related expenses” of the mother before a child’s birth, back to conception, in setting the child support payments required of either parent.

Abortion rights advocates nationally saw new reason to be concerned about proposals to treat embryos and fetuses as full persons following an Alabama Supreme Court ruling in February declaring that frozen embryos could be considered children under that state’s laws.

But supporters of the child support bill said Kansas has long granted some legal protections to fetuses.

Kansas has had a law in place since 2007 that allows people to face separate charges for what it considers crimes against fetuses — including assault, manslaughter and even capital murder. A 2013 state law also declares that “unborn children have interests in life, health and well-being,” though it isn’t enforced as a limit on abortion.


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