Kansas Abortion Bill Would Impose Sweeping Restrictions

'This Is The Largest And Most Sweeping Overhaul,' Says Abortion Rights Advocate

Kansas lawmakers have been given six days to consider one of the most sweeping state anti-abortion bills to be introduced.

A Kansas House committee is scheduled to take up a bill Wednesday that would exempt doctors from malpractice suits if they withheld medical information to prevent an abortion. The measure would also take away tax credits for abortion providers, remove tax deductions for the purchase of abortion-related insurance coverage and require women to hear the fetal heartbeat. The bill includes several provisions, which passed in other states and now face federal lawsuits. The bill would also require women be told about potential breast cancer risks from abortions, even though medical experts discount such a connection.

"This is the largest and most sweeping overhaul we've seen to date," said Sarah Gillooly, public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of Kansas, a women's health care provider that provides abortion services in some clinics.

Among the most contested provisions of the bill is the section that would exempt a doctor from a medical malpractice suit if a woman claims the physician withheld information about potential birth defects to prevent her from having an abortion. In addition, a woman would not be able to sue if she suffers health damage from a pregnancy as a result of information withheld from her to prevent an abortion. A wrongful death suit could still be filed, however, if the mother died.

The bill includes provisions similar to those found in other state laws now facing federal lawsuits, including Texas' requirement that the mother hear the fetal heartbeat, and Oklahoma's mandate that mothers be told about a potential risk of breast cancer with an abortion. It also would replicate Arizona's provision prohibiting tax deductions for abortion-related groups

The breast cancer warning requirement has been the subject of much debate, since members of the medical community have disproved a link between abortions and an increased risk of breast cancer.

One moderate Republican legislator in Kansas has come out against this aspect of the measure. "An abortion does not cause breast cancer," said state Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), a retired anesthesiologist.

With language stating that anesthesia is administered to fetuses during surgery and indicating that an unborn child feels pain, the Kansas bills calls for making 20 weeks the latest time for having an abortion, a decline from the 21-week point adopted last year. Bollier said she has professional objections to this requirement, saying that medical reports show that a fetus does not feel pain until 25 to 30 weeks and that the anesthesia is administered to prevent a rapid fetal heartbeat, which she said arises as a reflex to external stimulation.

The bill also includes a provision to stop tax deductions for health savings accounts that include the purchase of abortion insurance coverage. "They are trying to keep women from buying these policies; it will hurt poor women," Bollier said.

The proposed legislation is listed as having been sponsored by a committee, a common practice in the Kansas legislature. In this case, the sponsor is the state's House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

Bollier and state Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-Topeka) said that state Rep. Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe), a vocal abortion opponent, is the driving force behind the legislation. Kinzer did not return several calls.

Gatewood believes that Kinzer had help in shaping the proposal. "I have a feeling that the governor and senior legislators have had input on this bill," he said.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has not indicated his position on the bill but previously has said he is willing to sign anti-abortion bills. Brownback's spokesman did not return a call for comment.

Lawmakers were informed of its existence last Thursday, six days before the scheduled committee meeting.

Planned Parenthood's Gillooly said that she and other advocates are trying to dissect the complex bill and determine a plan of counterattack. Bill opponents concede the measure will likely pass the conservative-leaning House and that their chance to fight the measure may rest with the moderate Republican-led Senate. Senate GOP moderates are facing conservative opponents in the August primary. Bollier hopes that the Senate divides the bill into sections to make it easier to strike down certain portions while still allowing some of the educational components to remain.

The House GOP's priorities are "out of line" in introducing this bill, Gatewood said, noting that other large-scale legislative issues are pending, including education spending, pension reform, Medicaid and redistricting measures as well as an overhaul of the state tax code. Legislators have too much on their plates without the abortion proposal, he said, adding that Democrats would rather the legislative focus not shift to the abortion debate.

"We are used to seeing large abortion bills; last year we saw some pretty sweeping changes to the abortion laws," Gatewood said. "I have not seen anything this complex before. Only having less than a week to get my brain wrapped around it is a little much."

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