Abortion foes plan to renew debate

Legislation summarized

Here is a summary of anti-abortion legislation vetoed last year by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and seen by abortion opponents as a starting point for a debate this year.

The bill would have rewritten laws that restrict late-term abortions and require doctors who perform them to file reports on each procedure with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The law now says abortions on viable fetuses after the 21st week of pregnancy are allowed only if a woman or girl’s life is in danger, or if she faces a “substantial and irreversible impairment” of a major bodily function. Courts have interpreted a major bodily function to include mental health.

Also, for such abortions, a physician must obtain a second opinion from a physician who is “not legally or financially affiliated” with the doctor performing the abortion.

New reporting rules: In each report on a late-term abortion, the doctor would have to specify the condition creating the risk to the patient’s life or the potential for substantial and irreversible harm to a major bodily function. KDHE now allows the doctor to state only that such a risk exists.

Both doctors would have to submit a sworn statement saying they are not financially or legally affiliated. That’s not required now.

In its annual statistical reports on abortions, KDHE would have to include information about the specific reasons for late-term abortions.

Lawsuits allowed: If a woman or girl who’s had a late-term abortion later believes the procedure was illegal, she could sue the doctor. Also, a husband could sue or, if the patient was under 18, a parent or legal guardian.

The patient would be allowed to collect monetary damages for physical and psychological injuries, plus “reasonable” attorneys fees and an amount equal to three times the cost of the abortion.

Prosecutors’ authority: Criminal charges against doctors over potentially illegal abortions could be filed not only by the attorney general and the prosecutor in the county in which the abortion was performed, but also by a prosecutor in any county where an act related to the offense occurred.

Licensing change: If a doctor were convicted of violating the late-term abortion law, the State Board of Healing Arts, which licenses and regulates doctors, would have to move to revoke the physician’s license. The board could avoid a revocation only if a two-thirds majority found “clear and convincing” evidence that there was no public threat and the doctor had been “sufficiently rehabilitated.”

Fetal viability: The legal definition of “viable” would change. A fetus is now viable if “sustained survival” is possible outside the womb without “extraordinary medical means.”

The new definition would declare a fetus viable if, “There is a reasonable probability that the life of the child can be continued indefinitely” with “natural or artificial life-supportive measures.”

Also, in determining whether a fetus is viable, a physician would have to follow accepted standards of care applied by other doctors in similar circumstances.

Second opinion: The doctor providing a second opinion for a late-term abortion would have to be licensed in Kansas. That’s not required by law now.

Both doctors would have to provide a written statement outlining their diagnoses, which would have to be based on “a medical judgment that would be made by a reasonably prudent physician, knowledgeable in the field, and knowledgeable about the case and the treatment possibilities.”

‘Partial birth’ rules: A procedure defined as “partial-birth” abortion in Kansas law would be prohibited, except when a patient’s life is in danger, in line with a federal law. State law now allows such abortions when a woman also faces a substantial and irreversible impairment of her physical or mental health, but KDHE says no doctor has reported using the procedure since October 1999.

Informed consent rules: Except in medical emergencies, at least 30 minutes before a late-term abortion, the doctor performing it would have to provide the patient with a written report justifying the abortion and the referral from the second doctor.

If the abortion were on a nonviable fetus, the patient would have to receive a written report outlining why the fetus is not viable.

Also, 24 hours before the abortion, in obtaining the patient’s informed consent for any abortion, the doctor would have to tell the patient that, “The abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

? Anti-abortion legislators in Kansas are pushing again this year to rewrite state restrictions on late-term procedures and for other initiatives, despite the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Tiller was the face of the abortion debate in Kansas — and sometimes nationally — because his Wichita clinic was among a few in the U.S. performing abortions in the last weeks of pregnancy. Tiller’s clinic has been closed since he was shot to death in May and no doctor or clinic elsewhere in Kansas is doing the same work.

But legislators who oppose abortion still expect to pass a bill requiring doctors who perform late-term procedures to report more information to the state and making it possible for them to face lawsuits if patients or others come to believe their abortions violated state law. Abortion opponents contend such issues are still compelling, even if no doctor or clinic is performing abortions as late as Tiller did.

Such a bill passed last year but was vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion rights Democrat, days before she was confirmed as U.S. health and human services secretary. Kansas House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, said he’ll use that measure as a starting point for a debate this year.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a Fowler Republican, said he’ll revive his proposal to prevent $250,000 in federal funds from flowing through the state to Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which operates an abortion clinic in Overland Park. The money is for programs to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and Sebelius’ successor, Gov. Mark Parkinson, another abortion rights Democrat, vetoed Huelskamp’s proposal in May.

Some abortion rights supporters had hoped for a break from the Legislature’s perennial debates over abortion because of lingering revulsion over Tiller’s murder, including among many abortion opponents. Abortion rights backers also contend the state’s ongoing budget problems should take precedence.

But Kinzer and other abortion opponents see postponing the debates as a mistake.

“The number of variables that can come into play 12 months from now as opposed to proceeding now are impossible to calculate,” Kinzer said.

Fundraising opportunity

Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood chapter, said he’s not surprised at abortion opponents’ plans. He sees the annual legislative disputes mainly as an effort to help anti-abortion groups raise money.

“There’s nobody in the state of Kansas who’s doing abortions past 22 weeks of pregnancy. It’s a moot issue, from a practical standpoint,” he said. “For the Legislature to continue to spend significant amounts of its time on an issue that has no practical impact is waste of taxpayer money and legislative time.”

Abortion opponents believe they have the same strong majorities in both legislative chambers for a bill rewriting late-term abortion restrictions and are close to the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a veto.

Timing not ideal

Parkinson spokeswoman Beth Martino declined to speculate on whether he would veto such legislation, but in an interview only days after becoming governor, Parkinson said his and Sebelius’ views on abortion are “very similar.”

“His views have not changed since last April, as far as I know,” Martino said.

Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist, said abortion opponents might do better to wait until after Parkinson leaves office. He’s not running for a full term this year, and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican, is a strong favorite to replace him.

Also, Beatty said, the debate over the state’s budget problems will dominate the annual 90-day legislative session that begins Jan. 11.

Brownlie noted the trial of Scott Roeder, the man charged with killing Tiller, is scheduled to begin in Wichita the day the Legislature convenes.

Beatty said it could cast a shadow over a legislative debate. “In legislative sessions, it is a zero-sum game: There’s only time and energy and political will for a certain number of issues,” he said.