Topeka New restrictions on abortions in Kansas easily cleared the state House on Thursday, including a fetal pain bill to block late-term procedures like a law Nebraska enacted last year and a requirement for doctors to get parents' consent before ending a minor's pregnancy.
The House approved two bills and sent them to the Senate, where members weren't sure how they'd fare, despite support there for new restrictions in the past.
The House vote on the fetal pain bill was 91-30. The other measure, with the parental consent requirement, was approved 96-25 and makes numerous other changes, many of which had been vetoed by former Democratic governors who supported abortion rights.
Abortion opponents see the measures as tightening the state's laws on abortion enough to prevent Kansas from regaining a past reputation as center for late-term procedures, a distinction it had for years because of Dr. George Tiller's clinic in Wichita until he was shot to death in 2009.
"It moves us to absolutely the forefront with respect to how restrictive our laws would be with respect to late-term abortion," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and strong supporter of both measures, said after the chamber debated them Wednesday.
But critics said the measures go further than restricting late-term procedures and argue they would endanger women's health. Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, predicted the fetal pain measure, based on disputed science, would draw a court challenge.
"Women have abortions for many different reasons, and each person's circumstances are different," Brownlie said. "These must ultimately be private decisions made by women and their doctors, not political mandates."
The Republican-controlled Legislature has had majorities in both chambers for much of the past decade inclined to impose new restrictions on abortion, particularly in the House. Bills were repeatedly vetoed by Democratic Govs. Mark Parkinson and Kathleen Sebelius, but GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, who was elected last year, is a strong abortion opponent and has called on lawmakers to create "a culture of life."
As for the two bills, Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said, "It's not everything all at once, but it's progress."
The bill containing the parental consent requirement also includes provisions to strengthen reporting requirements for doctors who perform late-term procedures and to allow lawsuits against them over potentially illegal abortions.
The proposed parental consent rule changes a law that now requires only that a doctor notify a parent or guardian before a minor's abortion, something anti-abortion groups say is easy to circumvent.
The abortion provider would have to obtain the consent in writing from either both parents or a guardian, though it would allow the minor to go to court to get around the rule.
The fetal pain bill bans abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy unless a woman or girl faces death or faces substantial and permanent damage to "a major bodily function," rewriting the definition of that term so that it excludes mental health. The ban assumes that after the 21st week of pregnancy, the fetus is capable of feeling pain.
Current state law restricts abortions after the 21st week when a doctor determines the fetus to be viable. The bill rewrites the definition of viability, tying it to the fetal pain standard, leaving physicians no discretion to declare that a fetus at that stage isn't viable.
The bill says there's a growing body of research, especially in the last few years, to suggest fetuses can feel pain by the 20th week of pregnancy. Supporters said there are hundreds of studies showing it, and the research is backed up by the use of anesthesia in fetal surgeries.
"Our unborn children's agony is no less just because we can't hear their screams," said Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican.
But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said it knows of no legitimate evidence showing a fetus can experience pain. The group holds that certain hormones developing in the final trimester must be present for a fetus to feel pain.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican and retired anesthesiologist, said the bill's declaration about when a fetus can feel pain is false.
"It's trying to establish something as a scientific fact that is not so," she said.