By Celia Llopis-Jepsen
TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican legislative leaders blocking a push to give Medicaid coverage to about 130,000 more Kansans say they fear the expansion’s impact on publicly funded abortions. Other Republicans and Democrats reject that argument as a red herring.
The Kansas News Service has learned that Medicaid has paid for a total of four abortions in the state between Jan. 1, 2013, and this month.
The number of Medicaid-funded abortions was obtained through a data request to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Medicaid in Kansas (also called KanCare) covered one abortion in 2014 and three in 2018. Public spending totaled $1,030 for the four procedures combined. Of that, $454 came from the state of Kansas.
The federal Medicaid program relies on a mix of state and federal money. Federal law prohibits Medicaid spending on abortions with three exceptions: If the woman was a victim of rape, a victim of incest, or the pregnancy could kill the mother.
That threat to the woman’s life can happen, for example, when a fertilized egg lodges in a fallopian tube instead of in the uterus. Such pregnancies fail and, if untreated, the Mayo Clinic says, put the mother at risk of bleeding to death.
Twenty-one states — but not Kansas — go beyond what federal law allows by using their own state dollars for women on the insurance program to get abortions in various situations beyond rape, incest, or life endangerment.
Kansas law prevents that by banning state spending on abortions “except to the extent required by federal law.”
The specter of Medicaid-funded abortion has been a hot topic in the Legislature in recent weeks.
Republican legislative leaders say they won’t allow a vote to expand Medicaid — one likely to pass — until lawmakers grant their request to hold a referendum on inserting anti-abortion language into the state constitution.
The proposed constitutional amendment says abortion isn’t constitutionally protected and that the Kansas Legislature can regulate it even in cases where women were victims of rape or incest or when their lives are at stake.
The referendum would take place during the August primaries, but it can’t proceed without two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate. It has the Senate’s support, but it fell four votes short in the House.
Thirty-six states and Washington D.C. have expanded Medicaid coverage to more low-income adults. Kansas lawmakers have passed Medicaid expansion before, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it. Last year, it cleared the House and appeared to have enough support in the Senate, but conservatives blocked a vote.
Holding up Medicaid expansion this year has split key anti-abortion voices over whether to link the vote on health insurance to abortion.
The state’s four Catholic bishops employ a lobbyist in Topeka who has said their stance is to stop Medicaid expansion until the Legislature sends the abortion question to a public vote.
But this week the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that scores of Catholic nuns across the state are petitioning lawmakers to proceed with ensuring more Kansans can afford health care.
The Legislature’s conservative leadership is likewise divided. Senate President Susan Wagle is blocking the Medicaid expansion vote. She and anti-abortion lobbyists say they are doing so to block Medicaid-funded abortion. Senate Republican leader Jim Denning says the issues aren’t linked, and that expansion wouldn’t make abortion funding more available than it already is.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celialj_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
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