Topeka Abortion opponents in Kansas renewed a push Thursday to impose new reporting requirements on providers and allow patients and others to sue them over potentially illegal late-term abortions.
The House gave first-round approval to a bill on a voice vote and planned to take final action by Friday. Supporters hoped the Senate also would pass the bill by Friday, before legislators began their annual spring break.
The bill says doctors performing late-term abortions must give detailed medical reasons for them in reports to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Also, if a woman or girl comes to believe her late-term abortion was illegal, she, her husband or parents could sue the doctor for damages.
The measure arises from disputes involving Dr. George Tiller, whose Wichita clinic is among a few in the U.S. that performs late-term abortions.
A Sedgwick County jury acquitted Tiller last week on 19 misdemeanor charges filed by the attorney general’s office. The charges alleged Tiller failed to obtain a second opinion on late-term abortions from an independent physician, as required by Kansas law.
Anti-abortion groups believe Tiller should have been prosecuted for performing illegal late-term abortions instead and were frustrated with how Attorney General Steve Six interpreted the late-term abortion law. The bill rewrites it to prevent such a narrow interpretation again.
“It’s an attempt to make sure existing law is being enforced,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican.
But critics saw the bill as another attempt by anti-abortion groups to limit access to abortion.
“It’s another roadblock that is absolutely unnecessary,” said Rep. Judy Loganbill, a Wichita Democrat.
The House passed a similar bill last month, but it hasn’t been considered by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee whose chairman, Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican, supports abortion rights.
With their second bill, anti-abortion House members can get an up-or-down vote in the Senate, bypassing Brungardt’s committee.
Legislators passed a bill last year to allow former abortion patients and others to sue doctors if they came to believe a late-term abortion was illegal. It also allowed them to seek a court injunction beforehand to block one.
But Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who supports abortion rights, vetoed the measure, saying the provision allowing a court to intervene before an abortion was an unconstitutional restriction on access.
“She will carefully examine whatever ultimately reaches her desk,” Sebelius spokeswoman Beth Martino said.
Last week, Sebelius signed a bill requiring doctors who use ultrasound or monitor fetal heartbeats to make the images or sound available to patients at least 30 minutes before a procedure.
Under state law, an abortion can be performed after the 21st week of pregnancy on a viable fetus only when a woman or girl faces death or “substantial and irreversible” harm to “a major bodily function,” which has been interpreted to include mental health.
A doctor must file a report with KDHE giving the reason for the abortion, after getting an independent second opinion.
KDHE has said doctors need only say that a patient faced death or “substantial and irreversible” harm, while anti-abortion groups believe Tiller and other providers should be spelling out their medical diagnoses.
The bill would explicitly require them to do so, in hopes of forcing state officials to examine whether the reasons for late-term abortions are legally sufficient. Six’s criminal case against Tiller didn’t challenge the reasons Tiller gave for his procedures.
The bill also would require a doctor to disclose his diagnosis, in writing, to the patient at least 30 minutes before an abortion and tell any abortion patient that the procedure would “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”