A glance at Kansas’ complex abortion rights history

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Mia Hennen/ The Sunflower

Crowds gather around A Price Woodard Park for the “March for Liberty” on July 9. Women’s March Air Capital and the League of Women Voters organized the march.

Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade on June 24, many pro-choice and pro-life marches and protests in Kansas have been appearing. This is not the first time abortion has caused conflict in the state.

Here’s a brief history on abortion rights in Kansas.

The Summer of Mercy and Dr. George Tiller

The Summer of Mercy was a 45-day campaign between July and August of 1991 organized by Operation Rescue — an anti-abortion group — where anti-abortion protestors flooded into Wichita.

During this time, protestors would arrive and congregate outside the Women’s Health Care Services clinic. The protestors would use a variety of tactics like blocking access to the clinic and yelling threats and prayers at workers as well as people trying to receive abortions.

The clinic in question was run by Dr. George Tiller, who later became a martyr for the abortion rights movement. Following the original Roe v. Wade decision that required states to allow abortions, Tiller became known for providing abortions, including late-term ones.

Despite the backlash Tiller received, he continued to provide abortions, even after his clinic was firebombed and he was shot (non-fatally) several times by two extremist anti-abortion protestors.  

Tiller continued to provide abortions until he was assassinated at the age of 67 in 2009 by an abortion extremist while serving as an usher at his church.

The Summer of Mercy led to thousands of arrests. In addition, it fueled both sides of the abortion debate — the anti-abortion movement continued to use tactics to end legal abortion access, while the pro-abortion side called for more federal protections for abortion-providing medical clinics.

Following the Summer of Mercy, in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act into law. This act makes it a federal crime to physically prevent someone from seeking an abortion (this includes threats and other forms of harassment), while still allowing anti-abortion protestors to utilize their first amendment rights

This act, while not ending the violence that surrounds the abortion debate, significantly decreased how much violence was seen after 1994.

Abortion legislation in Kansas

Kansas has seen many different successful and failed attempts to pass new legislation pertaining to abortion over the years. 

In a 2012 statute, the Kansas state legislature made abortion illegal after 22 weeks (with the exception of the child bearer’s life/health being at risk).

In 2013, the Kansas state legislature tried and failed to pass a fetal heartbeat bill that would have banned abortion at the start of a fetus’ heartbeat. 

Most health professionals say a fetal heartbeat can be detected around six weeks after gestation; however, much controversy surrounds this subject as the fetal heartbeat (at six weeks) is described more as a “flutter” of movement instead of an actual “heartbeat.” This “flutter” is due to a group of cells that will become the future “pacemaker” of the heart that gain the capacity to fire electrical signals around six weeks.

The vote approaches

The vote on Aug. 2, whether Kansans vote to amend the constitution to make abortion inaccessible in the state or not, will be a major point in the state’s history.

Kansans for Constitutional Freedom and Value Them Both Association are huge forces in the abortion debate that have both poured millions of dollars into their campaigns over the last year to garner support for their side.

According to the Kansas City Star, the “vote no” group — Kansans for Constitutional Freedom outraised the “vote yes” group — Value Them Both Association — by almost $2 million. In addition, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom spent about $400,000 more than the Value Them Both Association.

Taking a closer look, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom raised $6,542,900 this year, while spending $5,836,388 from Jan. 1 to July 18. The Value Them Both Association raised $4,691,596 this year while spending $5,406,417 during the same period.

Both groups’ close numbers make it difficult to determine the outcome of the Aug. 2 primary.

How and where to vote

While registration for the primary has closed, early voting has begun and will go until Aug. 1.  

Early voting information can be found at https://www.vote411.org/kansas

Want to do a mail-in ballot? Go to https://www.ksvotes.org/. The applications for a mail-in ballot are due by July 26.

Plan to vote in person on Aug. 2? Go to https://www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/ for polling locations.