When we talk about Kansas, we’re usually bogged down in the quagmire of anti-choice legislation birthed in the American heartland. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why: there are no abortion providers in 97 percent of counties in Kansas, and it was one of the states to pass the largest number of restrictions to abortion care in 2012.
As a friend and colleague from Planned Parenthood so eloquently put it, Kansas is a “petrie dish”—a place where the most extreme anti-abortion laws are conceived and tested. And she’s absolutely right. With one of the most outspoken anti-choice majorities in the state legislature, Kansas is a central battleground in the national fight for reproductive health, rights, and justice.
In fact, Representative Steve Brunk just introduced a bill on Wednesday, seeking to further restrict access to sexual and reproductive health care. This bill—among other things—would require a physician to withhold critical information from his or her patients if they believe that information could potentially result in the termination of a pregnancy. House Bill No. 2253 would expand the Woman’s Right to Know Act, stipulating that all medical providers inform their patients that “abortion includes a risk of breast cancer and premature births in future pregnancies.” Both of these claims have been deemed scientifically inaccurate by the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the World Health Organization. This bill would also create several new taxes including:
- A new tax for employers, who purchase optional health insurance abortion coverage riders for their employees.
- A new tax on any expense related to expenditures on research and development that ma include abortion.
- A new state sales tax on drugs/medications used in the performance or induction of an abortion.
Needless to say, this bill is a whole new level of extreme. And in a state where countless barriers already exist to limit access, it’s easy to unilaterally focus on the negative side of the equation. And on the surface, that’s the only story we see.
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At Choice USA, we get to see a different story.
We get to see a new generation of pro-choice leaders fighting back.
This week, over two dozen of our student leaders traveled from across the state to meet—face to face—with their legislators. Frustrated with continued attacks on reproductive health and rights in their state, they wanted to send a collective message to the 2013 legislature: if you continue to support legislation that hurts young people, we’re going to hold you accountable.
On Monday, our students delivered this message—loud and clear—to fifteen different state legislators. And we’re already seeing the impact.
In fact, our students had the entire statehouse buzzing—fascinated and intrigued by this infamous group of young leaders storming the Capitol building. Some of them were champions and supporters of reproductive health and rights. Many of them were not. Several legislators even told us that this was their first time meeting with young constituents to discuss reproductive health issues. Before Monday, they were laboring under the false pretense that their constituents were universally anti-choice.
We set the record straight.
And although we may not have the numbers we need in the state legislature to prevent this bill from passing, we do have their attention. By meeting with legislators on Monday, our students were able to push for specific compromises and minimize the impact of the bill, turn our supporters into more vocal champions, lift up young people’s voices in the political process, and ultimately build the grassroots power we need to transform the political climate in Kansas.
It’s a powerful story. But if you don’t look beyond the surface, all you see is a galvanized anti-choice movement and a state legislature willing to move their agenda. All you see is a hopeless cause. Look beyond the surface though, and you’ll find some of the most passionate and talented young activists in the country, leading a grassroots effort to win reproductive justice in Kansas.
This lobby day is a shining example of Choice USA’s strategy to move a youth-led and youth-focused reproductive justice agenda: making strategic investments in young leaders on the ground, so that they can build the grassroots power necessary to protect and expand access to sexual and reproductive health in their own communities.
After meeting with her elected officials for the first time, Mia, a 17-year-old activist from Kansas, asked, “I’ve never felt so empowered before. Can we do this everyday?”
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to politics, young people know better than to hit it and quit it. Every political act we participate in is a starting point for long-term engagement.
And that’s precisely why Choice USA does this work.
We do it because we know that the emerging generation of pro-choice leaders is the most valuable—and untapped—resource we have in combating the rampant assault on sexual and reproductive freedom. We know that young people are the only ones with the power and growing political momentum to shift the status quo in a meaningful and sustainable way.
There is more at stake for young people in 2013 than ever before, and the moral imperative in front of us is clear. We must invest in the emerging generation of progressive leaders now, or risk losing everything.
So if Kansas is at the center of the battle for reproductive freedom, then young people are our frontline troops and we have an ethical obligation to invest in them.
And you know what they say.
There’s no better time than the present.