State Senate vote sustains veto of anti-abortion bill

Measure comes 2 votes short of override

How they voted: Area Democrats Marci Francisco, Lawrence; Anthony Hensley, Topeka; and Tom Holland, Baldwin City, all voted to sustain the veto.

? Anti-abortion senators failed Thursday night to override a veto of a bill to toughen the state’s late-term abortion law.

After hearing a short plea from Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, the Senate voted 25-13 to override the veto — two votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the 40-member chamber. The vote ended the issue for the year because the chamber gets only one chance at an override.

“This is about a woman’s right to file for civil damages for an illegal abortion,” Pilcher Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, told her Senate colleagues. “Please, for the sake of the standard of medical care for women, please override this veto.”

The bill would have required physicians to report additional information to the state about the late-term abortions they perform, and county prosecutors could have investigated and possibly filed charges over potentially illegal late-term procedures performed in other counties.

Also, doctors could have faced lawsuits from patients who later came to believe that a late-term abortion violated the law. A patient’s husband, parent or guardian also could have filed suit.

In her veto message, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius questioned whether the bill was constitutional and suggested it would cause “intimidation” of doctors.

Sebelius vetoed the measure shortly before resigning to become U.S. secretary of health and human services. Anti-abortion groups used her record of supporting abortion rights in a failed effort to derail her Cabinet confirmation, and she was replaced as governor by Mark Parkinson, who says his views on abortion are “very similar.”

The Senate’s vote prompted predictable reactions from both sides.

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, praised senators for upholding the veto.

Planned Parenthood operates an abortion clinic in Overland Park but says it doesn’t perform late-term procedures.

“We really wish the Legislature would spend more time on the real issue of abortion and that is reducing the number of unintended pregnancies,” Brownlie said. “That means family planning and good sex education.”

The bill was aimed largely at Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita, one of the country’s few providers of late-term abortions.

Tiller says he hasn’t violated any law but does face a complaint by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.

“We hold some hope there will be some justice,” said Kathy Ostrowski, a lobbyist for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.

State law allows abortions on viable fetuses after the 21st week only if carrying the pregnancy to term would endanger the mother’s life or cause a “substantial and irreversible impairment” of a major bodily function.