Sens. Marci Francisco and Susan Wagle sat politely side-by-side to outline the great distance between their views on a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution declaring the state's Bill of Rights never guaranteed women access to abortion.
Wagle, a Wichita Republican and president of the Kansas Senate, joined 27 colleagues to advance the amendment designed to reverse the Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 affirming a constitutional right to abortion in Kansas. Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, voted against the amendment forwarded to the Kansas House, which could vote this week on the measure.
Francisco said on Capitol Insider, a podcast of The Topeka Capital-Journal, the court reasonably found while considering appeal of a ban on an abortion procedure that Kansans had a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The majority of justices declared this fundamental right to bodily autonomy extended to pregnant women and ordered a district court to reweigh the abortion-procedure dispute based on this precedent-setting opinion, she said.
"They said this Bill of Rights, in this Section 1, protects women," Francisco said. "Not allowing a particular form of abortion means that they need to look for alternatives and the alternatives are less safe or nonexistent."
She said the Legislature should balance the state’s interests with individual rights when regulating abortion.
Wagle, who is a candidate for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, said adoption of the amendment by the Kansas Senate was a "win for women and for the unborn." She expressed confidence the Kansas House would secure the two-thirds majority necessary to adopt the resolution. The resolution would place it on a statewide ballot in August.
She said the Supreme Court's imposition of a "strict scrutiny" standard for evaluating Kansas abortion laws and regulations could jeopardize more than a dozen pro-life statutes in Kansas. She said the Legislature was forced by the Supreme Court to defend its capacity to regulate abortion within confines of U.S. Constitution and the Roe v. Wade decision.
She said the amendment was an appropriate response to the judicial branch's overreach in a case tied to a 2015 Kansas law banning the most common second-trimester abortion method.
"The laws we have in Kansas are healthy," Wagle said. "They're pro-woman. We make sure we have regulated facilities that are clean. We have parental notification in place. We have informed consent. We want to keep those laws in place."
Francisco said the strict scrutiny standard wouldn't automatically wipe out abortion regulations, but would require the regulations to be grounded in a compelling state interest and to be narrowly crafted to promote that interest.
Francisco questioned placement of the amendment on low-turnout primary ballots in August rather than November ballots, especially in a presidential election year capable of drawing a higher percentage of registered voters. She raised concerns about the additional cost to counties if required to print special ballots for unaffiliated or Libertarian Party voters not typically participants in primary voting.
Wagle said there was good reason to push the amendment through the Legislature early in the 2020 session and to get it before statewide voters in August.
"What I sensed for the pro-life movement was a sense of urgency in that they were very appalled in the new requirement of strict scrutiny," she said.