Topeka — The Kansas Senate’s top leader promised Thursday that his chamber will debate abortion this year after the House easily approved a Nebraska-style fetal pain bill to block late-term procedures and add other restrictions on ending pregnancies.
Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said legislation won’t be bottled up in committee, as some abortion opponents have feared. Asked whether he intends to have a debate on the issue, Morris said, “Yes.”
“We want to do it in a timely manner,” he said.
Many senators presume that at least some changes in state abortion laws will pass, given approval of restrictions in the past.
But members of both parties didn’t know how the House bills will fare in their chamber because they haven’t reviewed the measures. The fetal pain proposal is a new concept for many of them.
“I don’t know much about that,” acknowledged Sen. Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican and abortion rights supporter.
The fetal pain bill won House approval on a 91-30 vote Thursday.
It says a fetus can’t be aborted after the 21st week of pregnancy unless a woman or girl’s life is in danger or if she faces substantial and permanent harm to “a major bodily function,” rewriting the definition of that term to exclude mental health.
The bill ties the restrictions to a legal presumption a fetus can feel pain after the 21st week of pregnancy. The science behind that presumption is still in dispute, however.
Current state law imposes the same restrictions — with an additional mental health exception — but only when a doctor determines the fetus is viable, or able to survive outside the womb.
The bill would take away a physician’s discretion to declare a fetus not viable and move ahead with a late-term abortion with no restrictions.
The House approved a second bill, 96-25, to require a doctor to obtain the consent of both parents or a guardian in writing before performing an abortion on a girl under 18. The girl could go to court to avoid the requirement.
The law now requires only that a physician notify at least one parent or guardian, and anti-abortion groups have said the law is lax enough that the requirement is easy to avoid.
The measure also includes provisions to strengthen reporting requirements for doctors who perform late-term procedures and to allow lawsuits against them over potentially illegal abortions.
Those changes and others in the bill were vetoed in the past by Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, who supported abortion rights. But GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, who was elected in November, is a strong abortion opponent and has called on lawmakers to create “a culture of life.”
Sen. Dick Kelsey, a Goddard Republican who opposes abortion, said the Senate appears to have a solid 21-vote majority in the 40-member Senate to pass such restrictions.
In the past, anti-abortion lawmakers have had to make concessions as part of unsuccessful efforts to pick up 27 votes, the two-thirds majority in the Senate necessary to override a veto.
“When you don’t have to have a super-majority, it changes things pretty radically,” said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and abortion opponent.