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Archive for Saturday, July 7, 2007

Late-term abortion law to be reviewed

Topic among several being studied this summer by lawmakers

July 7, 2007

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The law

Current state law says a late-term abortion can be done when a fetus can survive outside the womb only if two doctors agree the mother's life is at risk or if continuation of the pregnancy will cause her substantial and irreversible harm to a major physical or mental function.

— Amid a legal controversy surrounding high-profile abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, legislative leaders decided Friday to have a special committee examine the law on late-term abortions with an eye toward recommending legislation next year.

It was one of several dozen topics scheduled for discussion over the summer that were endorsed by the Legislative Coordinating Council. It also expanded a committee created to review the Greensburg tornado disaster to include the flooding in southeast Kansas and an examination of at the state's disaster response in both instances.

House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, also recommended a study of ways to stimulate housing for low- and moderate-income families, especially in the disaster areas.

"That's where the critical issue will be," said McKinney, who lost his house in the May 4 tornado that leveled more than 90 percent of the town and killed 10 residents.

The abortion issue will be reviewed by a committee of six House members and three senators. It will headed by Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, who requested the study. He is chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which reviews abortion proposals when the Legislature is in session.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld said disagreements between Attorney General Paul Morrison and his predecessor, Phill Kline, over interpretation of the 1998 late-term abortion law points up the need to review it.

"It pointed out some deficiencies of how we handle the law," said Neufeld, R-Ingalls. "We need to decide what it takes to fix that."

When Kline was attorney general, he fought a two-year battle to get patient records from Tiller, one of the few U.S. doctors who perform late-term abortions. He filed 30 misdemeanor charges against Tiller in December, all dismissed by a judge over a jurisdictional issue.

Last month, Morrison said Kline's charges lacked merit but then charged Tiller with 19 misdemeanor counts of getting a second opinion from a doctor who wasn't financially independent of him, as the law requires.

The committee will consider the impact on state law by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding a nationwide ban on a procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion, a ruling both sides said could pave the way for further restrictions.

The committee also will consider if physicians should be required to provide more specific information to state health officials about why a late-term procedure was necessary, whether state officials are doing enough to report statutory rape and whether more information is needed about possible financial ties between the two doctors who sign off on a late-term abortion.

Asked if abortion will be debated by legislators next year, Neufeld said, "Has it ever not been?"

"It's fine. There's not a lot new to learn, but it doesn't hurt to take another look," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

The law says a late-term abortion can be done when a fetus can survive outside the womb only if two doctors agree the mother's life is at risk or if continuation of the pregnancy will cause her substantial and irreversible harm to a major physical of mental function.

Last year, 11,221 abortions were performed in Kansas, and only 380 of them involved a fetus in the 22nd week of gestation or beyond. In 2005 there were 10,542 abortions reported with 414 being late term, according to state statistics.

But abortion won't be the only issue studied by the special committee. It will also consider the need for state regulation and oversight of amusement rides. Kansas is among seven states that doesn't regulate amusement rides, leaving safety inspections to local code inspectors, insurance companies and amusement park employees.

It also will study the need to regulate public smoking in the state. A Senate bill creating a statewide smoking ban was stalled this year after it was amended to allow counties to decide whether they wanted the ban to apply to them.

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