Kansas anti-abortion measure fails; Medicaid plan targeted

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House members watch as final votes are tallied Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Top Republican legislators moved Friday to a vote in the Kansas House on a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution without knowing whether they had the votes to get it through the GOP-controlled Legislature and onto the ballot. (Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Republican lawmakers in Kansas failed to get a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the ballot Friday, and abortion opponents responded by moving aggressively to block a Medicaid expansion plan backed by Democrats and GOP moderates.

Neither side expected Friday's vote in the Kansas House to be the last word on whether the abortion measure ultimately is put to a vote in a statewide election, when a simple majority would change the state constitution. It would overturn a Kansas Supreme Court decision last year that declared access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state's Bill of Rights.

Anti-abortion lawmakers struck back immediately with moves aimed at intensifying pressure on four Republicans who broke with the GOP on Friday's vote and some Democrats in relatively conservative districts. They promised to hold up the bipartisan plan to expand the state's Medicaid health coverage to as many as 150,000 additional people — a top priority for Gov. Laura Kelly.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, sent all 11 House-passed bills on the Senate's debate calendar and another two Senate health care bills back to committee. She declared that no House-passed bill on any subject would clear committee until the abortion measure goes on the ballot.

But she drew a quick rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Kansas City-area Republican and the chamber's No. 2 GOP leader, who worked with Kelly to draft the bipartisan Medicaid expansion plan. Denning said Wagle's actions came “without my input” and did not reflect his plans.

“Her statements are obstructive and not how we should be governing,” Denning tweeted.

Kelly also said in a statement that Medicaid expansion "shouldn’t be derailed by political gamesmanship.”

Top Republicans vowed they would keep pushing for the proposed anti-abortion amendment's passage. They said they're not trying to ban abortion but trying to return to the status quo on abortion before the Kansas Supreme Court's decision.