Stigma on Steroids: On Kansas Banning Abortion Providers From Schools


No school district, employee or agent 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, agent or volunteer of an abortion services provider.

The above provision is contained in a nearly 50-page bill that recently went into effect in Kansas. (A judge temporarily blocked two other provisions of the law, but allowed this one to remain.)

To be sure, the relentless assault on abortion that we are currently seeing in other state legislatures—Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina, among others—are far more consequential in the short run. Ambulatory surgical center (ASC) and hospital admitting privilege requirements really do have the capacity to shut down clinics. Should the Texas bill currently being considered become law—as is likely, despite the heroic efforts of the thousands of orange-shirters gathered at the capitol—the number of Texas abortion facilities would go from 47 to five in that huge state. Already, due to a similar ASC requirement, earlier rammed through the Pennsylvania legislature as a cynical response to the Gosnell scandal, a number of clinics in Pennsylvania have closed. And the bans on abortions after 20 weeks, adopted by a number of states, will affect a relatively small number of women, but typically those in desperate medical and/or social condition.

But other provisions of abortion legislation, of which the Kansas one cited above is a prime example, do a different kind of damage. They further the stigmatization and marginalization of abortion providers by making clear that these individuals are not welcome in that most central of community institutions: the schools. It is not just participation in sex education from which Kansas providers are barred. As Stephanie Toti, senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging this law, told me, “This is unprecedented discrimination against abortion providers. … The prohibition on providers serving as ‘agents’ of a school district has the effect of barring them from serving as chaperones on field trips and engaging in most other volunteer activities.”

So abortion providers are at this moment banned from Kansas schools—and supposedly this will promote the safety of adult women getting abortions, as is the typical sanctimonious rationalization of the various laws we are seeing.

I asked several lawyer colleagues if they knew of other instances in which a whole occupational category was banned by law from volunteering in schools. They did not. Indeed, as far as I can tell, only sex offenders as a class are de facto banned from school grounds.

This shocking ban on abortion providers’ involvement in the schools leads me to recollect other instances I have encountered of attempts to isolate this group and keep them from community involvement. I think of a provider I’ve written about who I call Bill Swinton (not his real name), a family medicine doctor in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. He was deeply involved in both his church and his community, and served for three terms on the local school board. But he was defeated for a fourth term in the late 1980s, as the abortion wars intensified; needless to say, his status as a provider was the key factor in his defeat. I think as well of another doctor I’ve written about named Susan Golden (also not her real name), in a town in the Midwest, who integrated abortion provision into her family medicine practice. When she and her partner planned to take part in a community health fair, presenting on the care of newborns, the entire event was abruptly cancelled by the anti-abortion owner of the facility where the fair had been scheduled to take place.

As disturbing as these incidents were, they did not have the force, or the legitimization, of law. The Kansas provision does—and as such, takes the stigmatization of abortion providers to a new level.

Assuming the Kansas law, including this provision, is not overturned, we can only speculate as to what effects it might have. Speaking personally, I remember as a child the enormous pride I felt when my father, a cardiologist, came to my elementary school with his microscope and showed the class wondrous things. As a working mother, I recall how much I valued occasional volunteer stints in my daughters’ schools, getting to know both their classmates and other parents. It is very disturbing to contemplate that providers and their children will be deprived of these experiences. And it is equally disturbing to contemplate the messages that others in the community will receive from such a ban.

This provision truly is stigma on steroids.

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  • fiona64

    When I was in high school, the most comprehensive sex education I’ve seen *to date* came from a Planned Parenthood volunteer. She emphasized that abstinence was the only guaranteed pregnancy prevention, but also demonstrated how IUDs worked (using a cut-away model), talked about hormonal contraception, condoms, etc. It was fact-based information, including failure rates, and really did emphasize abstinence (but not at the expense of putting correct information out there).

    A parent flipped his wig and complained to the school board that the school was “putting ideas in the heads” of juniors and seniors by allowing this woman to address the group.

    Care to hazard a guess as to whose daughter was walking through the school hallways in maternity attire the next year?

    • Ella Warnock

      Oh sure, high school kids NEVER think about sex unless someone else brings it up.
      *eyeroll*

      • John W Beck

        Ha! I sure thought about sex years beforehand, and the first time I ever had sex was when I was a freshman in high school – 9th grade. As a gay kid in the early 1980s all I had to worry about was this weird GRID that got some news now and again, but that was in NYC and Southern CA.

  • Tanya Nguyễn

    As much as i hate this law, you are misreading it. Nothing in the law says you cannot volunteer at your school. it says no one who works for, volunteers at, etc, an abortion clinci may address SEXUAL ISSUES of any kind.

    you can still bake cookies. but if you are the most informed doctor in your Kansas town on stds, and also happen to volunteer at the local PP, you cannot talk to the kids at your local school.

    • Carole Joffe

      Thank-you Tanya for your comment. but what am I misreading? This is what the CRR lawyer told me how she and her colleagues understand the law: ” As Stephanie Toti, senior attorney at the Center for Reproductive
      Rights, which is challenging this law, told me, “This is unprecedented
      discrimination against abortion providers. … The prohibition on
      providers serving as ‘agents’ of a school district has the effect of
      barring them from serving as chaperones on field trips and engaging in
      most other volunteer activities.”

    • fiona64

      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, agent
      or volunteer of an abortion services provider.

      Tanya, here is the problem: the way this is written would allow an anti-choice group to provide all of the same things, despite the fact that (for example) crisis pregnancy centers are known to give out medically inaccurate information, seldom (if ever) have trained medical staff on-hand, etc. By writing it this way, it takes the information out of the hands of actual subject matter experts (like the Planned Parenthood volunteer who spoke at my school lo, these many years ago) and puts it in the hands of people with an anti-choice agenda.

      I’d rather have (as Joe Friday said) “just the facts, ma’am” presented to youth than histrionic and dishonest emotional appeals.

      I realize that you and I may be, to some degree, in what a former colleague calls “violent agreement.” However, I don’t think anyone is misreading anything here.

      • https://twitter.com/LittleMsHaldol LittleMissMellaril

        What are you talking about fiona64??? The babezzz are like flowers, they don’t eat, wow when I thought that kids needed to actually be cared for I was delusional! And babezzz come from the Storke! Better take more Mellaril!

  • Arakiba

    Gee, guess I won’t be able to go to the janitor or the school bus driver for my next abortion!

    • yellowdogdemocrat

      You’ll have to go to your local meat butcher now.

  • http://www.yepi2.co/ yepi

    Stigma on Steroids: On Kansas Banning Abortion Providers From Schools. true

  • CHenslee

    If I read this correctly, if I as a substitute teacher, or aid of any kind, so much as volunteered at Planned Parenthood I could be fired, even if I said nothing about it to the students!

  • JamieHaman

    Wish government worked as hard at saving us from Big Business as it does trying to run our uterus.

  • yellowdogdemocrat

    Where is the White house while Republibagger states whittle away at RoevWade??? All these “laws” have to be unconstitutional. Who is going to start bringing lawsuits against the Republibagger states?

    • William Wilgus

      George Zimmerman

  • mr.c

    Kansas, marching proudly into the 16th century.

  • ORAXX

    Ignorance, as public policy, doesn’t exactly have a great track record.

  • William Wilgus

    How fortunate Dorothy and Toto were to be removed from Kans-ass by the tornado!