Kansas abortion laws on fetal pain, parental consent get Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature

? Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed legislation requiring doctors to get written permission from parents before performing abortions on minors.

The signing Tuesday came four days after Brownback signed a bill tightening restrictions on abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy based on disputed claims that fetuses can feel pain.

Both new laws take effect July 1. Brownback says they reflect what he calls a growing “culture of life” across the state and nation.

Critics said the new laws will endanger women and limit their health care choices.

Abortion opponents are pushing another bill imposing specific regulations for abortion clinics. They expect it to reach Brownback’s desk after legislators return April 27 from their annual spring break.

The bill would require annual, unannounced state inspections of the clinics, and the governor favors the concept.

“He supports the dignity of every human being,” Jones-Sontag said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has approved numerous changes in Kansas abortion laws in recent years, but such proposals were vetoed by Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, abortion rights Democrats.

When Brownback took office in January, abortion opponents pushed for the changes they’d long been denied and others, including the parental consent and fetal pain proposals.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which performs abortions at an Overland Park clinic, labeled the measures “extreme.”

“The Kansas Legislature and Governor Brownback are putting the health and safety of Kansas women and families at risk in the name of political posturing,” said Peter Brownlie, Planned Parenthood’s president and chief executive officer.

Planned Parenthood lobbyist Sarah Gillooly said its lawyers are reviewing the new laws and believe parts of them — particularly provisions in the new fetal pain law — are unconstitutional. But Planned Parenthood is preparing to comply with the parental consent requirements, she said.

Supporters believe the new laws will withstand judicial scrutiny. Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said the changes are long overdue for not only reducing abortions but protecting patients.

“These are commonsense regulations that should have been put in place a decade ago,” he said. “It’s kind of a new day here in Kansas.”

The new abortion consent law will replace a statute requiring a doctor to notify one parent before performing an abortion on a minor. Starting in July, a doctor will have to obtain consent from at least one parent or guardian in a written, notarized statement, both if the parents are still married. However, a minor could go to court to avoid the requirement.

The bill also would allow former patients or family members to sue doctors if they have evidence that the physician violated abortion restrictions.

Twenty-four states have parental consent laws, but only two, Mississippi and North Dakota, require consent from both parents, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Courts have blocked three additional states from enforcing their consent laws.

The new fetal pain statute is patterned after a law enacted in Nebraska last year. It says no abortions can be performed after the 21st week of pregnancy unless a woman or girl’s life is in danger or unless she faces substantial and permanent harm to her physical health.

Kansas law now imposes those restrictions on abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy when the fetus is viable, or able to survive outside the womb, allowing a doctor to terminate a pregnancy after concluding a fetus isn’t viable. Current law also allows an abortion of a viable fetus if the woman faces substantial and permanent harm to her mental health.

The new law justifies its tighter restrictions by declaring medical evidence shows the fetus can feel pain at that point — something supporters say has been documented by numerous studies.

But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said it knows of no legitimate evidence showing a fetus can experience pain. The group said certain hormones developing in the final trimester must be present for a fetus to feel pain.

Also, the only clinic in Kansas known to have performed abortions regularly after the 21st week of pregnancy was Dr. George Tiller’s in Wichita. He was shot to death in May 2009.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported recently that only one abortion performed in Kansas in 2010 came after 21st week of pregnancy, compared to 121 in 2009 and 323 in 2008.