Kansas Among 20 States Seeking to Limit or Ban Abortion If SCOTUS Overturns Roe v. Wade

Legislation is being planned to uphold, ban or limit abortion rights in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade next year and the decision falls to the states.

The court is set to make a decision in mid-2022 on a case that could limit or completely reverse the 1973 ruling that made abortion legal across the country.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization, said Kansas is one of at least 20 mostly southern and midwestern states with laws in place that would limit or ban abortion should the court decide to overturn Roe.

On Kansas' 2022 primary ballot, residents will vote on a proposed amendment to the state's constitution that would reverse a 2019 state Supreme Court decision that called access to abortion a "fundamental right." Instead, the amendment would give lawmakers the right to regulate abortion however they want.

In several states, lawmakers are looking to introduce legislation similar to a Texas law that made abortion illegal once embryo cardiac activity is detected, approximately six weeks after conception. The controversial law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court because it was left to individuals, not the state, to enforce the law by allowing them to sue anyone who aided in providing the abortion after the "heartbeat" cutoff.

"I think most conservative states in the South will look at this inaction by the court and will see that as perhaps a chance to move on that issue," Mississippi state Senator Chris McDaniel said.

anti-abortion, protest, Washington DC
At least 20 states with conservative legislatures have laws in place that would limit or ban abortion should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. Above, anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on December 1, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Early in the new year, the Vermont House of Representatives is due to begin debate on an amendment that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution and send the question to voters in the fall.

Because the process began two years ago, it's a coincidence that Vermont lawmakers will be considering the Reproductive Liberty Amendment while the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could severely erode a right that has stood for half a century.

Supporters of the proposed Vermont amendment had the possible loss of Roe in mind when they began the process in 2019 to enshrine "reproductive autonomy," including abortion, in the constitution.

"In my mind, there should be no question where Vermont stands with regard to its core values and fundamental rights," said Democratic state Representative Ann Pugh, who chairs the committee that will hold hearings on the proposal as early as January. "And for those rights and responsibilities and values to be protected more definitively, they need to be enshrined in our state constitution."

In California, lawmakers are expected to consider a plan in the coming year to make the state a "sanctuary" for those seeking reproductive care. That could include paying for travel, lodging and procedures for people from other states where abortions have been restricted or perhaps outlawed.

"Abortion has always been contentious," said Mary Hahn Beerworth, of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, which is opposing Vermont's abortion-rights amendment. "In every state legislature across the country, in every political election, abortion rises to the top. It's one of the most identifying issues of our time."

More than a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, have statutory protections in place for abortion rights, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute. That includes Massachusetts, where the Democrats who control the legislature earlier this year approved a bill over the veto of Republican Governor Charlie Baker codifying abortion rights into state law.

Yet even in California, which already has adopted several measures to protect abortion access, a pro-choice group laid out 45 steps that could be taken to further protect those rights.

"There is a lot of work to be done in order to shore up abortion rights and access," Nash said.

Efforts to further restrict access are not just coming from more traditionally conservative parts of the country. The state budget New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, signed in June contains a provision prohibiting abortion after 24 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for the mother's life or physical health. It takes effect January 1, just before the start of the new legislation session.

And Republican lawmakers, who control New Hampshire's legislature, are drafting several abortion-related bills, including one that would prohibit the procedure after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Another would allow the biological father of an unborn child to seek a court order prohibiting a woman from having an abortion. A third would repeal the prohibition against remaining on a sidewalk adjacent to an abortion clinic.

Nash said a handful of states have interpreted their state constitutions as protecting abortion rights, but Democrats in Vermont want to be certain.

The proposed amendment does not contain the word "abortion." Proponents say that's because it is not meant to authorize only abortion, but also would guarantee other reproductive rights such as someone's right to get pregnant or have access to birth control.

"There's a lot of support for this in the legislature," said Lucy Leriche of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. "I think the reason seems pretty clear to me at the moment. We've had this right for almost a half a century to reproductive liberty, and people don't want to see us go backwards."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Women's March, Texas capitol
An expected decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming year to severely restrict abortion rights or overturn Roe v. Wade entirely is setting off a renewed round of abortion battles in state legislatures. Above, the Women's March ATX rally on October 2, 2021, at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. Stephen Spillman, File/AP Photo