House bill includes abortion limits

Amendment added to regents insurance bill

? In a surprise move Tuesday, an anti-abortion provision was attached to insurance legislation sought by state colleges including Kansas University.

The underlying bill would allow KU and other state universities to buy health insurance that could be provided to students, including those employed as graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants.

Currently, multiple agencies are involved in providing the voluntary health insurance. The bill would bring the purchasing power under one buyer – the Kansas Board of Regents – and provide better coverage, officials said.

The measure sailed out of committee without controversy.

“For competitive reasons, we need to offer students appropriate insurance at reasonable costs,” KU Provost David Shulenburger had testified during the committee hearing.

But Tuesday in the House, Rep. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, amended the bill so the health insurance couldn’t provide coverage for abortions.

“So the state won’t be funding abortions,” Kelsey said when asked why he proposed the amendment. “It may be a legal procedure, but it’s not a moral one.”

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, urged colleagues to reject Kelsey’s amendment.

“This is not the time or the vehicle to have this debate,” Sloan said. “This is an insurance bill, not an abortion bill.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, argued that adding the anti-abortion amendment would invite a legal challenge and possibly prevent the regents from providing better insurance to students for several years.

But Kelsey didn’t agree. He said it’s typical for insurance policies to restrict certain procedures.

Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said Kelsey’s amendment represented “extreme ideology.”

Brownlie said health insurance currently available to students would cover abortions in cases of rape, incest or if there is a threat to the life of the pregnant woman.

“It seems callous and very extreme for the Legislature to deny coverage for students in those circumstances,” Brownlie said.

The House approved Kelsey’s amendment 72-50. The chamber then gave the entire legislation preliminary approval, 85-35. A final vote is expected today.