Catholic Church spending big on anti-abortion constitutional amendment in Kansas
In Kansas, abortion is still legal. In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that "the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights protects a woman's access to abortion." The court found that Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights protects "every person's right to personal autonomy—and this right enables a woman to make decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life, including the decision whether to continue a pregnancy."
That could change soon.
On August 2, citizens in Kansas will vote on an amendment to Kansas' Constitution. The measure, Resolution No. 5003, would “amend the bill of rights to the constitution of the state of Kansas” to state that “there is no constitutional right to abortion,” while “reserving to the people the ability to regulate abortion through the elected members of the legislature.” The amendment, which is known to supporters as “Value Them Both,” was put on the ballot in early 2021 when it was approved by both chambers of the state legislature.
If approved, it would open the door for Kansas' Republican-dominated legislature to ban or severely restrict abortion.
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (D) opposes the amendment and supports protecting abortion rights, but she is up for reelection in the fall. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R), who is expected to be the Republican nominee for governor, has already said he plans to vote yes on the amendment, and that he “prefer[s] a future with less abortion[s].”
The implications of the vote could reverberate far beyond Kansas' borders.
Kansas is currently one of the only states in the area that allows abortion now that Roe has been overturned, with Kansas’ neighboring states of Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas having abortion bans in effect. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that covers abortion rights, “Kansas could see a more than 1,000% increase in abortions as its neighboring states, including Missouri, impose trigger bans and restrict abortions without state level protections.”
Therefore, if the amendment passes and Kansas legislators succeed in passing an abortion ban, it could become even more difficult to obtain an abortion in the region.
The Catholic Church gave over $750,000 to anti-abortion campaign in Kansas
One of the largest donors to anti-abortion groups campaigning for the amendment is the Catholic Church. Recent filings show that Catholic dioceses gave at least $750,000 to the Value Them Both Coalition in 2021. The coalition, which includes anti-abortion groups Kansas Family Voice, Kansans for Life, and the Kansas Catholic Conference, is campaigning across Kansas.
The filings show that of the $1.2 million that the coalition raised in 2021, $500,000 was donated from the Archdiocese of Kansas City and $250,000 was donated from the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. Documents covering 2022 donations will not be filed until later this month.
Churches are normally prohibited from engaging in political campaign activity due to their tax-exempt status. The prohibition, however, only applies to campaigns involving "candidate[s] for elective public office." The IRS considers ballot initiatives a "legislative activity" and churches are allowed to spend money to influence the result. In this case, it means that tax-exempt funds are being used to add an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution.
An analysis by the Kansas City Star found that “[l]ess than 4% of donations [to the PAC] came from individual Kansans.”
The Susan B. Anthony National Pro-Life America group has also reportedly “invested $1.3 million in Kansas to promote the passage of the abortion amendment.” The group, whose mission is “to end abortion by electing national leaders and advocating for laws that save lives,” is run by Marjorie Dannenfelser, who reportedly “played a key role in getting President Trump to commit to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices who oppose abortion.”
There are also groups, however, that are fighting against the passage of the amendment. Ashley All, a spokesperson for reproductive rights advocacy group Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, told Popular Information in an interview that Kansans “no longer have… protection at the federal level” but are in “a unique position to be able to vote on this and protect our rights.”
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How abortion opponents are manipulating the Kansas vote
Recently polling shows there is broad support for reproductive rights in Kansas. In a poll taken in December 2021, 51% of Kansas voters agreed that the "Kansas government should not place any regulations on the circumstances under which women can get abortions." Further, the poll found that 62% of Kansas voters agreed with this statement: "When it comes to abortion, women are in a better position than politicians to make their own choices about whether to get an abortion."
So how will a ballot initiative amend the Kansas Constitution to eliminate abortion rights pass? Abortion opponents have a plan. Voters will weigh in on the amendment during the primary election on August 2. How does that help? In Kansas, most of the abortion opponents can be found among the 851,882 registered Republicans. Supporters of abortion rights, however, are split among registered Democrats (495,574) and unaffiliated voters (560,309).
Unaffiliated voters don't normally vote in primary elections, which exist to select party nominees. So it's possible that few unaffiliated voters will show up, making the August 2 electorate more hostile to abortion rights than the overall voting population. Overcoming this trickery will require a massive education campaign and turnout operation.
An extraordinary response to a Michigan ballot initiative
The status of reproductive rights in Michigan is complicated. A 1931 Michigan law bans nearly all abortions, with no exception for rape or incest. (The only exception is abortion necessary to preserve the life of a pregnant woman.) Both doctors who perform abortions and women who take abortion pills face four years of incarceration under the law. That statute has been unenforceable since 1973 when the Supreme Court established a constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade.
Abortion opponents argue that now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe, the 1931 law should take effect. Planned Parenthood of Michigan, however, thought ahead and filed a lawsuit in April seeking to block the enforcement of the 1931 law. In May, a court granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law.
That injunction, however, has been appealed by Right to Life of Michigan, the Michigan Catholic Conference, and the Republican leaders of the state legislature. The Republican-dominated legislature blocked legislation last year to repeal the 1931 law. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) called the 1931 law "terrific."
As a result, Michigan is in limbo. The ultimate fate of the 1931 law in the courts is still undetermined. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) says that, regardless, she will not enforce the 1931 law. Nessel could not stop county prosecutors, however, from bringing cases. Further, Nessel is up for reelection in November in what is expected to be a close race. Her potential Republican opponents all oppose abortion rights.
Even if the courts rule that the 1931 law is no longer valid, the Michigan legislature could pass new legislation banning or severely restricting abortion. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) has promised to veto any such legislation but she also faces reelection. The Republican Governors Association, flush with corporate cash, has already committed to spending millions to defeat her.
In January, however, a coalition launched a signature drive for a Michigan ballot initiative called Reproductive Freedom for All. The effort attracted over 25,000 volunteers. The initiative would amend the Michigan constitution to "affirm that every person has the fundamental right to reproductive freedom… including birth control, abortion, prenatal care, and childbirth."
To qualify for the ballot, organizers needed to submit 425,059 valid signatures to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office by 5 PM Monday. Instead, the coalition submitted 753,759 signatures — the most ever collected for a Michigan ballot initiative. There are signatures in support of the initiative from all 83 Michigan counties. The Secretary of State's office must still verify the signatures but, with such a large number submitted, it is a formality.
The extraordinary interest in the initiative across Michigan is the first tangible sign of the impact abortion rights may have in the midterm elections. In November, if a majority of Michigan voters cast ballots in support of the Reproductive Freedom for All initiative, it will become part of the Michigan constitution.