Abortion pill plan clears Kansas Legislature; veto expected
TOPEKA, Kan. — Abortion opponents pushed a bill through the Kansas Legislature early Friday to require providers to tell patients that a medication abortion can be “reversed” once it’s started — a measure that could face a state court challenge if its supporters can overcome the governor’s expected veto.
Republican lawmakers pursued the bill even though experts dispute abortion opponents’ claims about medication abortions. Democrats argue the measure defies a decisive statewide vote in August affirming abortion rights. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a similar measure in 2019.
Kansas has been an outlier on abortion among states with GOP-controlled legislatures because its legal and political climate won’t allow a ban on abortion, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2022 that states can outlaw abortion. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that access to abortion is a matter of bodily autonomy and a “fundamental” right under the state constitution, and last year’s vote was to reject stripping out that protection.
“The people of Kansas have spoken,” state Rep. Christina Haswood, a Democrat from the liberal northeastern Kansas community of Lawrence, home to the main University of Kansas campus, said during Friday’s brief debate. “They do not want us touching anything on abortion.”
Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups contend the vote last year doesn’t preclude “reasonable” restrictions. They contend that the “abortion pill reversal” measure only ensures that patients have information.
“They need to be knowledgeable about what can happen,” Republican state Rep. Susan Humphries, of Wichita, during a debate on the issue last week.
The votes for the final version of the bill were 80-38 in the House and 26-11 in the Senate. In both chambers, abortion opponents were short of the two-thirds majorities needed to override a veto but enough absent lawmakers might have voted “yes” for an override to be possible.
But even then, the measure still could be challenged in court by providers who believe it would force them to give patients inaccurate information. Lawsuits have prevented Kansas from enforcing a 2015 ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure and a 2011 law imposing extra health and safety rules for abortion providers.
Meanwhile, legislators this week also approved a bill dealing with live deliveries during certain types of abortion procedures. Doctors could face criminal charges or lawsuits for monetary damages if they are accused of not providing reasonable care to an infant delivered alive during certain types of abortion procedures.
And lawmakers have included $2 million in state tax dollars in the next state budget for centers that provide free prenatal and post-birth counseling and other services as they seek to discourage women from having abortions. Abortion opponents also are pursuing creation of an income tax credit for donors to those centers, allowing up to $10 million total a year.
“This is not about abortion and it’s not about a ban. We heard the vote. We get that,” House health committee Chair Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, told colleagues during a debate on the issue last week. “We also heard you say we don’t care and now we’re trying to step up to the plate.”
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says there is no scientific evidence that the “reversal” method, involving using the hormone progesterone in place of the second abortion medication, is safe or effective.
Two physicians started using the “reversal” method more than 15 years ago, and abortion opponents note that progesterone is often used to try to prevent women from miscarrying a pregnancy. One of the doctors who participated in a 2018 study said doctors followed more than 750 women who’d sought to reverse medication abortions and said a sizeable majority were successful.
Critics have said the study was flawed and couldn’t show whether the women would have carried their pregnancies to term without progesterone.
“Kansas deserves providers who are free to stick to fact-based health care and not forced to spread scientific myths,” Democratic state Rep. Melissa Oropeza, a Kansas City nurse practioner, said during Friday’s debate.
But abortion opponents said it’s not improper to promote what is essentially an off-label use for progesterone.
“Heck, we use a lot of things off label,” state Rep. John Eplee, a northeastern Kansas doctor, said during last week’s debate. “Viagra — sildenafil — was used as a medication for pulmonary hypertension for five years until they found all the male patients woke up with complications, quote-unquote, from it.”
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