Kansas Senate advances bill restricting late-term abortions

How they voted

The Kansas Senate approved two bills sought by abortion opponents with a 24-15 vote Wednesday. All senators voted the same way on both measures.

Of the 32 Republicans, 23 voted yes, eight voted no and one did not vote.

Of the eight Democrats, one voted yes and seven voted no.

State Sens. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, and Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, both voted no.

? The Kansas Senate approved a bill Wednesday restricting late-term abortions based on the presumption that a fetus feels pain after the 21st week of pregnancy.

With the 24-15 vote, Kansas follows Nebraska as the second state in the nation to use the fetal pain threshold as grounds for restricting abortion.

“It’s a landmark vote,” said Kathy Ostrowski, lobbyist for Kansans for Life. “We are the first in the pack. Other states are moving in this direction.”

The bill allows an abortion after the 21st week of pregnancy only if the mother’s life is in danger or she faces substantial and permanent harm to “a major bodily function,” which would exclude mental health.

Nebraska’s fetal pain law was passed in 2010 and it took effect in October. The law has yet to face a court challenge, but anti-abortion supporters say it creates another compelling reason for states to restrict abortions and invite further review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court is waving us in,” Ostrowski said.

House members approved the bill earlier in the session and are expected to concur with a minor technical amendment to send the bill to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to sign.

The legislation ties the restrictions to a legal presumption that a fetus can feel pain after the 21st week. 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.

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said the measures were “chauvinistic and patronizing” because men were telling women what to do with their bodies.

“I would trust women, for or against, on either side of the issue to argue the pros and cons,” Haley said.

But Republican Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer of Grinnell said his wife, daughters and other women in his western Kansas district are urging him to stand up against abortion. “Protect the unborn. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the legislation jeopardizes the health of a woman and that lawmakers fail to recognize that not all families are healthy or functioning normally.

“While rare, an abortion that takes place after 22 weeks into a pregnancy is most often necessary because of a severe fetal indication or serious medical condition that endangers the life or health of the mother,” Brownlie said. “This bill is an attack on women and families facing wanted pregnancies that have gone terribly wrong.”

Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, said the measure does nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies or reduce the number of abortions in Kansas.

“I want our statutes to be compassionate, both to the unborn child and their families,” she said.

The Senate also passed a second bill adding restrictions to late-term abortions and requiring parental consent for minors to have abortions. The House also approved the bill earlier in the session.

Brownback vowed to sign anti-abortion legislation when he took office in January.

“I do think it’s a good law and I’m happy the governor is anxious to sign the bills,” Ostrowski said.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the governor was pleased with the bipartisan effort on abortion and a variety of issues.

“He’s looking forward to signing pieces of legislation consistent with the vision outlined in the road map for Kansas and endorsed by the people of Kansas in the last election,” she said.

The second bill requires 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 both supported abortion rights.

Two other abortions bills are pending, one increasing regulation of abortion clinics to require compliance with state reporting requirements and a second to remove the mandate for private insurance to cover elective abortions.

Abortions could be covered by insurance if a separate rider was purchased in advance, or in the case of extreme medical emergencies, Ostrowski said.