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Abortion remains hotly contested in Kansas heading into the 2024 legislative session

Republicans will maintain a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature when they return to Topeka next week.
Julie Denesha
/
Kansas News Service
Republicans maintain a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature as they return to Topeka.

A look at how abortion access changed in Kansas in 2023 and what could happen in 2024.

WICHITA, Kansas — From an influx of patients to evolving state restrictions, 2023 brought changes to abortion access in Kansas — and more could be on the way in 2024.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Kansas became a hub for people who can’t access abortions in their home state. In 2023, patients from across the South and Midwest continued to seek abortions at Kansas clinics, making it increasingly difficult for Kansans to access abortions locally.

Abortion rights groups continued to work in 2023 to keep abortion as accessible and affordable as possible in a rapidly evolving policy landscape.

Abortion opponents in the Kansas Legislature worked to restrict reproductive care in new ways, with mixed results. And as lawmakers prepare to head back to Topeka next week for a new legislative session, Republicans have a veto-proof supermajority — but remain constrained by the Kansas Constitution’s firm protections for abortion rights.

Kansas abortion providers filed a major new lawsuit that will test the constitutionality of several of the state’s longstanding abortion restrictions. An upcoming hearing for that case will help determine the future of how the state is allowed to regulate abortion in the coming years.

Here’s where things stand regarding abortion in Kansas and what to watch for in 2024.

More people are traveling to Kansas for abortions

Kansas saw a sharp increase in abortions after the fall of Roe in 2022.

Data from the state health department shows that Kansas clinics performed 12,318 abortions in 2022 — 57% more than in 2021. Out-of-state patients more than accounted for the increase; around 100 fewer Kansans got abortions through the formal health care system.

Official numbers for 2023 won’t be released for several months. But data from a few independent groups indicates continued growth in the number of abortions happening in Kansas in 2023. More patients, they also find, are traveling from other states.

A recent analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, found that 3,700 more people traveled to Kansas for an abortion in the first half of 2023 compared with a similar period in 2020. Around 65% of abortions in Kansas are now performed on out-of-state residents — the second-highest percentage of any state in the country.

At some clinics, the portion of out-of-state patients is even higher. Trust Women, in Wichita, says 81 out of every 100 clients they see have traveled from Texas, Oklahoma or another state. In December, staff reported receiving between 3,000 and 4,000 phone calls a day — most of them requesting appointments — when they can only see between 40 and 50 appointments

That’s resulted in some Kansans seeking abortions in other states.

Abortion rights groups have mobilized to ensure as many people as possible can still access reproductive care. That includes one group organizing pilots to fly patients from states with bans to Kansas and elsewhere in private planes.

Abortion funds, which help people pay for and travel to abortion appointments, are dealing with mounting requests for help — at the same time that they report falling donations.

More Kansans, too, are turning to online pharmacies to order abortion pills. Data from one overseas pharmacy showed that orders from Kansas for the standard two-pill regimen of Mifepristone and Misoprostol doubled from May 2022 to August 2022 — a period when demand for appointments at Kansas clinics skyrocketed.

Anti-abortion state lawmakers passed new restrictions in 2023

The Kansas Constitution protects the right to an abortion, and voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed ballot measure that would have undone that protection in 2022. But a veto-proof Republican supermajority in the state Legislature managed to pass a few new restrictions in 2023.

That included a “born alive law” that prohibits doctors from killing babies born living as the result of a failed abortion. The law is largely symbolic because several existing laws already make such a practice illegal.

Lawmakers also created a $2 million state-funded program to promote alternatives to abortion. It distributes money to anti-abortion counseling centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. The faith-based nonprofits offer resources to people with unplanned pregnancies, but have come under fire for using misleading tactics to discourage people from getting abortions.

A third new law, that would have required abortion providers to inform patients about abortion pill reversal, is currently tied up in court. Doctors who perform abortions would have had to tell patients that the abortion pill can sometimes be reversed if they regret taking it, and give them information about a controversial hormone treatment that proponents say can help aid in that reversal. Major medical groups say the treatment is unproven and potentially dangerous.

Several other abortion restrictions were introduced — including a near-total ban without exception for saving the life of the mother and a proposal to let local governments enact their own bans — but did not pass.

No abortion-related bills have been prefiled so far for the 2024 session, which was not the case at this time last year. But advocates on both sides of the issue will be lobbying lawmakers to introduce legislation restricting or expanding abortion rights in 2024 and beyond.

A major lawsuit will continue to play out in 2024

In June 2023, abortion providers filed a lawsuit alleging that four of the state’s abortion restrictions are unconstitutional, including the new abortion pill reversal law.

It also targeted a 24-hour waiting period that providers say has been increasingly onerous as more people travel from out-of-state for abortions. Others, the suit alleges, force doctors to lie to patients, like a requirement that they tell patients debunked claims that abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

Attorney General Kris Kobach is fighting the lawsuit. He says the restrictions are essential to ensure women understand the risks associated with abortion. An increase in out-of-state patients, his lawyers also argued, should have no bearing on whether a restriction should be allowed to stand.

In a major development in October, a judge granted abortion providers’ request that the restrictions at the heart of the lawsuit be temporarily blocked. That means the restrictions — some of which have been in place for decades — are not currently in effect.

Kansas still has a number of other restrictions in place, including a ban after 22 weeks and parental consent rules for minors.

The case is the first time the state’s abortion restrictions are being challenged since voters affirmed abortion rights in 2022. It’s also the first major court case that will set the tone for abortion policy in Kansas post-Roe.

A trial is scheduled for June.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.