May 30, 2024

A bill passed by Kansas lawmakers would make it a crime to coerce someone into an abortion

Kansas state Sen. Dennis Pyle, left, R-Hiawatha, confers with Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, during the Senate session, Friday, April 5, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Pyle supports a bill to make it a crime to coerce someone into having an abortion, while Dietrich passed the last time senators considered it. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

By JOHN HANNA AP Political Writer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — People who make physical or financial threats against others in Kansas to force them to get an abortion could spend a year in prison and be fined up to $10,000 under one of several proposals pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Abortion opponents in Kansas pursued the measure against abortion “coercion,” increased reporting on abortion and aid to anti-abortion centers providing free counseling, supplies and other services to pregnant women and new mothers because of the state’s unusual legal climate. While the Legislature has strong anti-abortion majorities, the state Supreme Court declared in 2019 that the state constitution protects abortion rights, and Kansas residents decisively affirmed that position in a statewide August 2022 vote.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is a strong supporter of abortion rights, and many lawmakers expect her to veto all the anti-abortion measures reaching her desk. All the proposals appear to have or be close to having the two-thirds majorities necessary in both chambers to override a veto.
“The vast majority of Kansans agree that too many women feel abortion is their only choice,” Danielle Underwood, a spokesperson for Kansans for Life, the state’s most politically influential anti-abortion group, said in an email Tuesday.
Kelly has until Monday to act on the bill that would make coercing someone into an abortion a specific crime. She also faces a Monday deadline on a bill that would require abortion providers to ask their patients why they want to terminate their pregnancies and then report the information to the state health department.
Anti-abortion groups and lawmakers have said they’re pushing for the state to collect the data to better guide state policy. Abortion rights supporters contend the measure is unnecessary and would violate patients’ privacy.
Two other measures will arrive on Kelly’s desk by Monday. One would grant up to $10 million a year in income tax credits for donors to anti-abortion counseling centers and exempt the centers from paying the state’s 6.5% sales tax on what they buy. In addition, a provision in the next state budget would give those centers $2 million in direct aid, continuing a policy enacted last year over Kelly’s veto.
Abortion opponents argue that such measures simply help vulnerable women. But Democrats have been frustrated with GOP lawmakers’ push for new legislation and aid to the anti-abortion counseling centers, arguing that it breaks faith with voters’ support for abortion rights.
“Abortion is a legal health service,” Democratic state Rep. Tom Sawyer, of Wichita, said when the House debated the tax breaks for the centers and their donors. “If you want to try to encourage people to not get abortions, it’s your right to do it, but we should not be so generously funding them with state funds.”
Abortion opponents hope that lawmakers will approve one other bill they’re backing, to ensure that prospective mothers can seek child support back to conception to cover expenses from a pregnancy. The House approved it before the Legislature adjourned early Saturday for a spring break, and the Senate could consider it after lawmakers reconvene April 25 to wrap up business for the year.
Abortion opponents portrayed the bill on coercion as something to help the state fight human trafficking and other crimes, such as the rape of a child. The bill’s definition of coercion includes destroying or hiding someone’s passport or immigration papers or threatening to harm or “physically restrain” them to force them into getting an abortion.
“This is something that flows from criminal activities,” state Sen. Mike Thompson, a Kansas City-area Republican, said during the final debate on the bill.
The measure is similar to laws in Idaho, Indiana, Michigan and South Dakota.
Critics said the Kansas bill is written broadly enough that a doctor who is seen as too aggressive in arguing that an abortion is necessary could fall under it. So, too, they said, could a husband who threatens divorce or a live-in boyfriend who threatens to leave if a woman decides to have a child.
“I just see how this could turn into a real, real sticky situation for a lot of young people,” Rep. Ford Carr, another Wichita Democrat, said during his debate.