The Kansas Senate passed a bill Thursday redefining abortion in state statute as anti-abortion advocates blame confusion for their loss last year when voters overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have removed the state-level right to abortion.
The chamber voted 29 to 11 along party lines to add language to Kansas law stating that miscarriage care, ectopic pregnancy care and use of contraceptives are not considered abortion. The proposal now heads to the Kansas House.
The change in language is unlikely to have any immediate impact on existing Kansas abortion laws, but it could change political conversations around the topic.
Questions of whether miscarriage care, ectopic pregnancy and contraceptives could be considered abortion and therefore restricted have existed in Kansas politics for years and intensified last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections in Roe v. Wade.
“There was a lot of misinformation, I believe intentionally spread by the abortion industry and its allies to equate ectopic pregnancy treatment and miscarriage management abortion when that’s obviously not the case under the law,” said Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, Kansas’ largest anti-abortion group.
Ashley All, a spokeswoman for the primary vote no campaign Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, said in a statement that the anti-abortion groups were the ones responsible for misleading messaging.
“Voters emphatically rejected their deceptive amendment. Kansans voted to protect the constitutional right of women to make their own private medical decisions. Sadly, these politicians refuse to listen to the will of Kansas voters,” she said.
As abortion bans took effect nationwide last year there was widespread concern that states would prohibit patients from accessing care for ectopic pregnancies and contraceptives.
In Missouri, St. Luke’s Healthy System briefly stopped offering Plan B emergency contraceptives to patients in the state out of fear of legal action. Doctors in some states reported sending ectopic pregnancy cases to emergency rooms out of fear that they would face legal ramifications for performing an abortion.
Kansas’ constitution guarantees a right to an abortion but the nationwide confusion played a role in the state’s vote to reject a constitutional amendment that would have rejected that right.
Opponents said they view the language change as abortion opponents laying the groundwork for new efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning abortion or other efforts to infringe on the right.
Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, said the bill was inappropriate because it was the Legislature determining when a procedure was OK and when it was not.
“They are making it very clear that they want to control these decisions no matter what the voters say,” she said.
In response Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Eudora Republican, said the bill changed a definition and would impact no one’s rights.
Zachary Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for Trust Women Foundation, an abortion clinic in Wichita, said the move to standardize abortion definitions statewide was reasonable.
“It’s good that legislators are getting educated on this,” he said. “We would prefer to be in service of expanding people’s health care options.”
Questions around what is and is not abortion plagued Kansas politics even before the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Last year, Rep. Trevor Jacobs, a conservative Republican, offered a bill to criminalize abortion unless it was done to treat an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. His bill was written so broadly that it could have referred to some forms of contraceptives.
In 2020, a political action committee funded by billionaire Peter Thiel that supported Republican Kris Kobach’s campaign for Senate attacked Kobach’s GOP primary rival Roger Marshall for providing ectopic pregnancy care in his medical practice in Great Bend. The PAC claimed in mailers that Marshall was performing abortions.
Eric Pahls, a Republican strategist at Big Dog Strategies who was Marshall’s campaign manager at the time, said legislation to create a clarification was welcome.
“Despite the desperate scare tactics, the reality is simple. The treatment of an ectopic pregnancy is not an abortion. It’s one of the few items in this debate that unites virtually everyone,” he said in a statement.
Marshall won the GOP primary and eventually went onto win the Senate seat after Kansans For Life, the state’s leading anti-abortion group, condemned the mailers.
All, from the vote no campaign, lumped the definitional change in with other abortion measures the Legislature has pursued this year.
The Kansas Senate on Wednesday was set to vote on a bill requiring care for infants “born alive” during an abortion despite no evidence that occurs in modern abortion care in Kansas. The House approved a bill requiring any medical professional providing mifepristone, an abortion pill, to tell patients the pill may be reversible.
The disclaimer is based upon a single study that has been steeply criticized within the medical community.
“These are the same politicians and extreme groups that want to ban abortion completely. They did not take no for an answer and came back this session to change the rules and take away our freedom,” All said. “The bills they are pushing do nothing to protect the health and safety of women in Kansas.”