Commentary Abortion

In Kansas, Employees of Abortion Providers Not Allowed to Volunteer at Schools

Kari Ann Rinker

It distresses me that anti-choice politics could threaten my relationship with at-risk middle school students.

Kansas now has five of the most harmful abortion restrictions in the nation—restrictions that exist to create barriers to abortion access and shame women and their doctors. One outrageous example of this public shaming can be found on page two of Kansas’ 70-page omnibus abortion bill. As originally proposed, the bill would prevent anyone who works for an abortion provider from volunteering at their child’s school.

The original bill read:

“No school district, employee or volunteer thereof, or educational service provider contracting with such school district shall provide abortion services. No school district shall permit any person or entity to offer, sponsor or otherwise furnish in any manner any course materials or instruction relating to human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases if such person or entity is an abortion services provider, or an employee or volunteer of an abortion services provider.”

Legislators included this language in part to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing age-appropriate sex education in schools—a topic of heated debate in local communities. The bill’s supporters ultimately want to see students taught abstinence-only sex education, despite studies showing that  such education methods don’t work in lowering teen pregnancy rates. Beyond the implications to Planned Parenthood as an entity, the bill makes a clear statement: Abortion is bad, anyone who is associated with abortion is bad, school children must be “protected” from these people and their ideas, and abortion providers must be publicly shamed and punished.

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If the bill text doesn’t convince you of these facts, then some of the comments made during the hearing should do the trick. As the Huffington Post reports, “[State Rep. J.R.] Claeys said that while he supports volunteerism, he believes ‘it is important that we don’t have people who are advocates for abortion to our children in school settings.'”

Repeat: Abortion is bad, anyone who is associated with abortion is bad, school children must be “protected” from these people and their ideas, and abortion providers must be publicly shamed and punished.

The Lawrence Journal World reports that “[s]tate Rep. Emily Perry, D-Mission, provided an amendment to allow volunteers in the classroom. But state Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, R-Grandview Plaza, opposed it, saying, ‘If we’re having people in our education system, I don’t want them involved in any way, shape or form or manner in killing children, killing babies.'”

Abortion is bad, anyone who is associated with abortion is bad, school children must be “protected” from these people and their ideas, and abortion providers must be publicly shamed and punished.

You get the picture.

At the urging of pro-choice lobbyists, lawmakers eventually agreed to amend the bill, substituting the word “agent” for “volunteer” in one instance, though they refused to change the word “volunteer” elsewhere in the bill. It’s not yet clear what implication that word change will have on enforcing these rules.  There will surely be more debate when the bill comes up for a vote of the full House. The point is that they tried.  While anti-choice lobbyists stated that the text was from a Missouri bill that passed a few years ago and they meant no harm…the word “volunteer” is not found in the Missouri bill.  I believe this makes their true intent clear…they really want to keep “evil doing” supporters of reproductive freedom out of their schools….even mere volunteers.

Meanwhile, other people who really do have the potential to be violent influences on children are free to associate with Kansas schools in any way they please. Let’s take a look at a few such folks from my Wichita, Kansas, community:

  • Cheryl Sullenger, employed by the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, was convicted of attempting to firebomb a California abortion clinic. Her phone number was also found in the car of Scott Roeder, the convicted assassin of the late abortion provider George Tiller.
  • Local anti-choice zealot Angel Dillard recently gained notoriety after sending a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means and is currently facing prosecution under the Freedom of Access to Clinical Entrances (FACE) Act. She recently tried to invoke clergy privileges to keep her conversations with Roeder out of these proceedings.
  • Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, won’t hesitate to befriend (and employ) the most extreme members of the terrorist anti-choice movement. I’m sure he also applauded the work of his friends in Germantown, Maryland, who thought it was appropriate to picket outside of a middle school with a sign that read “Please Stop the Child Killing” and included a photo of a student’s father.
  • Mark Holick, the man behind the planned “pro-life memorial” in Wichita, recently stood in front of the home of a woman who is attempting to bring abortion care back to Wichita with a sign that read “Where is Your Church?”—an obvious reference to the Tiller murder, which look place in a church.

As I have written previously at Rewire, I am a mother of three school-age children. I am a pro-choice feminist who used to work as a lobbyist for the Kansas National Organization for Women (NOW) and would not hesitate to work for Planned Parenthood or any other abortion provider. I firmly reject the “abortion is bad” school of thought. I also volunteer weekly at my daughter’s middle school, working with a group of young women who are at risk of dropping out. I provide them with moral support and encourage them to develop and employ effective decision-making skills. I celebrate these girls and invite them to realize their maximum potential. They are a joy to me, and I believe they benefit from our relationship.

But it distresses me that anti-choice politics and hatred for women’s reproductive freedom could ever put my relationship with those middle school students at risk. And it distresses me that under the law I could be considered “immoral” for supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion.

There are currently three young women in my middle school group. Statistics show that one of them will have an abortion in her lifetime. My hope is that the none of them will be exposed to shame and harassment surrounding their decisions and that anti-choice legislative efforts will dissipate over time.

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