The Republican majority in the Kansas House fell short Friday of the two-thirds majority required to place on statewide ballots in August an amendment declaring the Kansas Constitution never conferred on women a right to abortion.
A six-hour drama on the House floor featured intense lobbying and ended with defeat of the amendment on a vote of 80-43, which was four shy of the minimum. The Senate had passed the resolution 28-12 in response to a Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring the state's Bill of Rights secured a right to abortion. Constitutional amendments are decided by a simple majority of Kansans participating in statewide votes.
"The people of Kansas lost today," said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe. "They lost their ability to exercise the state system of judicial check and balances. Today's vote sets our state down a disappointing path. One where the people have no say in whether Kansas will be a pro-life or pro-choice state."
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, responded to House action on the amendment by sending 11 House bills and two Senate bills from the floor back to committees of the Senate. Several involved health policy and were viewed as amendable with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's plan for expansion of Medicaid to about 130,000 low-income Kansans.
"This vote just completely changed the course of the 2020 legislative session," Wagle said. "I will work with the pro-life community and will persevere to ensure its passage."
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said the Senate president's unilateral attempt to thwart movement of Medicaid expansion and to sidetrack an assortment of other bills was "very childish."
Potential swing voters in the House casting votes against the amendment said they didn't appreciate placement of the amendment on August primary ballots. Others denounced the amendment because it didn't guarantee an exemption for abortions to save the life of a woman and in instances when a person was the victim of rape or incest.
Rep. Ron Hineman, a Republican from Dighton, said his "no" vote on the constitutional amendment wasn't in conflict with his 12-year pro-life voting record. He said amendments to the Kansas Constitution should be considered by the largest number of voters possible.
"To do otherwise raises questions about the sincerity of the call to let the people decide," Hineman said. "This should not and cannot be the end of this discussion. Options remain. We can still regroup and place the measure on the November ballot and I will trust the good citizens of this great state to pass the measure at that time."
Opponents of the amendment argued it could lead to a ban on abortion in Kansas, while proponents said the Supreme Court's ruling jeopardized dozens of abortion regulations or laws.
Champions of the measure sought to rebuke Supreme Court justices with an amendment clarifying the constitution's Bill of Rights shouldn't have been interpreted to include the right to an abortion. A majority of justices supported the decision in April affirming personal rights of autonomy extended to pregnant women.
"By voting 'yes' someone would have been essentially voting to take those rights away and put them in the hands of the Legislature," said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park. "I don't think that any of us are arrogant enough to assume that we would be able to make decisions better than Kansans and their families. That's why we were proud to vote against this extreme legislation."
Leading proponents of the amendment, including Kansans for Life and the Kansas Catholic Conference, called on the Legislature to slam brakes on consideration of Medicaid expansion until the abortion amendment cleared the House and Senate.
The GOP leadership had convened the House without landing the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment. A "call of the House" was invoked by Republicans at 10:20 a.m. to lock representatives in the chamber and buy time to persuade colleagues to back the amendment. It was lifted after 3:30 p.m. so the final vote could be recorded.
Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, had expressed confidence supporters of the amendment would prevail.
"We have a process here that is sometimes messy, that sometimes takes time, but it involves us talking to one another," Finch said.
The state Supreme Court's opinion in April pointed to text in the constitution's Bill of Rights that granted Kansans inalienable natural rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
"We are now asked: 'Is this declaration of rights more than an idealized aspiration? And, if so, do the substantive rights include a woman's right to make decisions about her body, including the decision whether to continue her pregnancy?' " the court's opinion said. "We answer these questions, 'Yes.' "