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Kansas and Indiana are figuring out abortion access will look like post-Dobbs

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It's been just over one month since the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a decision that rolled back abortion protections that had existed since Roe v. Wade and a decision that gave states the power to ban abortions. Kansas and Indiana are among the first to begin to figure out what abortion access will look like going forward. For more, we're joined by NPR's Sarah McCammon. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So let's start in Indiana, where a special session beginning this week has brought an abortion ban bill to the floor. What is in that bill, and what is unique about Indiana's approach?

MCCAMMON: So before the Dobbs decision came down on June 24, more than a dozen states already had trigger laws in place. Those are the ones written to go into effect if Roe were overturned. Others had older laws from before the Roe era on the books or legislation that had been passed in more recent years but blocked by the courts. Those states all sprang into action to try to implement those laws in various ways. But Indiana is the first to hold a special session following this decision in an effort to try to pass legislation on abortion in this new post-Roe world.

So the outcome of this session could be seen as a bellwether for other Republican-majority states that are looking at trying to push through new bans through their own legislatures in the coming months. And Vice President Kamala Harris met with Indiana lawmakers before the start of the special session, and she referred to a prominent high-profile case that's been in the media in recent weeks. This is the one involving the 10-year-old rape victim who came from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion several weeks ago.

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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: The idea that in some states a woman or a child would have endured such an act of violence and then to suggest that she would not have the autonomy and authority to make a decision about what happens to her body is outrageous.

SUMMERS: So let's dig in, Sarah, a little bit deeper on what's going on in Indiana. What exactly is being proposed in that bill?

MCCAMMON: The Indiana bill, called SB1, would ban nearly all abortions from the beginning of pregnancy. As currently written, it does include some exceptions for victims of rape or incest and to save a patient's life. And those exceptions for rape and incest are an especially heated issue in Indiana right now because of the highly publicized case of the 10-year-old girl from Ohio who traveled there for an abortion after being raped. Here's an exchange between Democratic State Senator Greg Taylor and someone who came to comment on the bill, a man named Bryan Schrank, who described himself as an anti-abortion evangelist.

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GREG TAYLOR: Sir, I asked you...

BRYAN SCHRANK: Yeah.

TAYLOR: ...About the bill that we're talking about.

SCHRANK: Yeah.

TAYLOR: Is abortion...

SCHRANK: Yes.

TAYLOR: Should that child have to have that child?

SCHRANK: So God is the giver and taker of life, and God gave that young girl life...

TAYLOR: Do you know...

SCHRANK: ...Despite a terrible circumstance.

TAYLOR: Do...

SCHRANK: And you don't punish the child for the sin of the father.

MCCAMMON: And meanwhile, Juana, some anti-abortion rights groups, including the National Right to Life Committee, are actually opposing this bill. They say it's poorly drafted and would not do enough to stop abortion. The latest on this bill is a Senate committee advanced it today with an amendment that limited some of those exceptions for rape and incest victims. It's expected to go to the full Senate later this week, but the final wording of the bill has yet to be seen. This session is expected to go on for at least a couple more weeks.

SUMMERS: So, Sarah, earlier you mentioned the case where an abortion was performed on a 10-year-old girl. The doctor who performed that abortion, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, she spoke out about the Indiana special session on Twitter. What did she have to say?

MCCAMMON: Right. She made a couple of statements on Twitter in recent weeks. Last week, she said, quote, "medicine is not about a list of exceptions for every situation imaginable. It is about getting care when you need it." And she said that this proposal would harm her patients, especially those in complicated situations. And in an op-ed for The Washington Post on Sunday, Bernard wrote that these concerns about her patients keep her up at night and said, quote, "legislators are the last people who should be in the business of deciding who gets medical care and who does not."

SUMMERS: And, Sarah, we should talk about some other states, too. Indiana is not the only state holding a special session right now, right?

MCCAMMON: That's right. West Virginia lawmakers are also considering this issue in a special session. They're looking at a near-total abortion ban that would criminalize abortion in most cases. Yesterday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice asked that this issue be added to a special session that was already planned to address tax issues. That proposal would make providing abortions a felony, punishable with up to 10 years in prison in most situations. And it is advancing in the legislature in West Virginia.

SUMMERS: Sarah, before we let you go, let's jump to Kansas for a minute. Next week, voters there will get to weigh in on whether or not lawmakers should be able to restrict abortion. Tell us what's on the ballot.

MCCAMMON: Yeah, this is being pretty carefully watched. There's a referendum vote on August 2. It would add an amendment to the Kansas State Constitution that would give state lawmakers the power to legislate abortion access. In many states, abortion rights advocates are claiming that state Constitutions protect abortion rights. This would push in the other direction. As recently as 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas State Constitution does indeed protect abortion rights. But this would allow lawmakers, if this referendum passes, it would allow them to restrict abortion. It's being watched closely by other states, such as Michigan, where abortion rights opponents are petitioning for a ballot measure on abortion rights as well.

SUMMERS: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thank you so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.