Capitol Update: Rep. Clayton questions proposed August timing for vote on constitutional amendment on abortion

Rep. Stephanie Clayton says she has concerns about the idea of the constitutional amendment on abortion being included on an August ballot because turnout is likely to be low.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Cindy Neighbor and Sen. Jim Denning are scheduled to send updates this week. We’ll also be publishing a piece from Sen. John Skubal, who was scheduled for last week but was out of town. Rep. Clayton’s column is below.

Much of my work in the legislature has centered around the Federal and State Affairs committee, and the bill that we heard and that cleared a legislative hurdle last week was the controversial HCR 5019: the constitutional amendment on abortion.

To provide context for this legislation, last April the Kansas Supreme Court released the Hodes v. Nauser decision, which stated that a woman had a right to bodily autonomy as is stated in the bill of rights.

This decision means that, as things currently stand, Kansas citizens who can get pregnant have the right to bodily autonomy even if Roe v Wade is repealed at the National level.

Changing the Kansas Constitution is a difficult undertaking with a complicated process. The bill must first receive a ⅔ majority in both the House and the Senate. Then, the amendment goes on the ballot, where a simple majority vote would strip Kansans of their constitutional rights.

This bill had a highly unusual day-long hearing in a concurrent committee of Senate Judiciary and House Federal and State Affairs. There was a vote on the bill in both committees the next day (the vote was not listed publicly on the agenda). This vote took place before committee members received all testimony from Kansas citizens, even though those citizens had to turn in their testimony in an ice storm, under a strict deadline and parameters. I voted NO. Despite that, the bill now advances to the House Floor.

As the bill is currently written, the ballot language would go on in the August election, when there is minimal turnout, and low engagement from unaffiliated voters, because the only elections that take place during that time are to choose party nominees for state offices. This August ballot concerns me, because if legislation is good, we would want all to see it and to vote on it. Indeed, the tagline used by the supporters of this bill is “let the people vote.” But, if the intent is to allow a public vote on ballot language for a fundamental change to our constitution in an obscure election with low turnout, what is meant by “the people”? Which people?

It has also been stated that this legislation is not a ban on abortion. But it most certainly allows legislators to ban the practice. In the event that Roe v Wade is repealed, this constitutional amendment strips Kansans of their constitutional right to bodily autonomy, and places their bodies in the hands of the Kansas legislature. Should the US Supreme Court repeal Einstadt v Baird, or Griswold v Connecticut, bodily autonomy could be further stripped related to birth control.

I have the utmost respect for my constituents, and consider them all to be equal people who deserve equal rights under our constitution. I consider it morally wrong, and the height of arrogance to strip them of their ability to make private decisions and to place those decisions in my hands.

I work for you! You can reach me at stephanie.clayton@house.ks.gov, follow me on twitter @sscjocoks, find me on Facebook at facebook.com/clayton4kansas. Thank you for allowing me to serve.