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Kansas Voters May See Abortion Amendment On August Primary Ballot

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People in Kansas want voters to decide if women have a fundamental right to abortion. If a ballot measure finds they do not have that right, the state would become the fourth in the country, following Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia, to change its constitution so abortion is not protected. Here's Celia Llopis-Jepsen the Kansas News Service.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN, BYLINE: The Kansas Bill of Rights says that everyone has inalienable rights. It's there in the state's constitution. And the Kansas Supreme Court last year ruled that means residents control their own bodies, including the right to an abortion. That ruling was a win for abortion rights advocates. But anti-abortion groups fear the state's current restrictions on abortion could be struck down unless that right is stripped from the constitution - things like a general ban on abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Some religious groups and others are lobbying for an amendment to the constitution. They organized letter writing campaigns, petitions and prayer.

JOHN HOLECEK: Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn, we implore your powerful intercession at this most critical of times. Now that the Kansas Supreme Court has completely removed pro-life protections...

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: John Holecek is coordinating a statewide rosary crusade to recite prayers like this one.

HOLECEK: I don't think it's a slam dunk by any means - although Kansas has a reputation of being pro-life - that it would necessarily pass.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Earlier this week, the Senate voted to put the change to the constitution up for public vote. The House could vote as soon as next week. Chuck Weber lobbies on behalf of the state's four Catholic bishops and urges lawmakers to support this measure.

CHUCK WEBER: You can be pro-choice as a legislator and still say, you know what, the American way is to decide things at the ballot box, and so I'm going to let the people of my district decide this question for themselves.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Those pushing the amendment want to get it on the August primary ballot here, and abortion rights supporters are crying foul. They argue that more Kansans will likely turn out for the presidential election in November and not the primary, which tends to turn out more conservative Republican voters. Surveys here suggest that while most Kansas residents do want some level of restrictions on abortion, a majority want it to remain legal. Abortion rights advocates are calling supporters...

LESLIE BUTSCH: Hi. Is Dolores (ph) there?

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: ...And asking them to reach out to legislators.

BUTSCH: So I'm actually calling to see if you or Dolores would call Representative Pittman and ask him to vote no on the constitutional amendment.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes is the group's advocacy arm.

RACHEL SWEET: Everyone deserves protection under the constitution.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Rachel Sweet is their lobbyist.

SWEET: Even if you are in the minority, you are a woman who is seeking abortion, your rights should not be dependent on a vote of your peers just because they might disagree with your decision.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: When Alabama voters approved a similar amendment to their constitution, the legislature there passed a near-total abortion ban, a measure that remains tied up in court. But when Senate Republicans in Kansas voted this week to allow a referendum on changing the constitution, they argued that nothing in the amendment's wording is a ban in itself. Planned Parenthood fears change in the constitution would be the first step toward making abortion illegal in the state.

For NPR News, I'm Celia Llopis-Jepsen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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