Anti-abortion protestors appear Dec. 5, 2022, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas Republicans haven’t discussed new abortion legislation yet, but they do plan to address the subject when the legislative session starts in January.
During Monday’s GOP caucus meeting to nominate new House of Representatives leadership, House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said he hadn’t had any discussions about a potential 15-week abortion ban that some anti-abortion activist groups have been advocating ahead of the legislative session.
The newly nominated leadership has shifted further to the right, and Hawkins said he anticipates more conservative proposals than usual this session.
Hawkins said that he knew groups like Kansans For Life were pushing for legislation similar to the “Born Alive” bill, a which has been rejected in other states for being too restrictive. The legislation essentially requires medical providers to attempt to save any children born prematurely or born alive after an attempted abortion. Critics have called this bill unnecessary and potentially harmful for medical providers.
“I have talked with, certainly with KFL. And the coalition that really worked on Value Them Both, they certainly would like to see the ‘Born Alive’ bill attempted, bring that out. To say that there’s not going to be any other abortion bills is wrong. Everybody’s free to bring whatever they want when it comes to bills. So we’ll see those,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said legislation involving funding crisis pregnancy centers might also come up.
“That’s certainly something that we will probably look at. Certainly, you know, you want to prevent unwanted pregnancies versus abortion. So that’s certainly someplace we can look at,” Hawkins said.
Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, said he didn’t know what anti-abortion legislation Republicans were planning to introduce in the upcoming legislative session, but said he was prepared to fight it.
“I think the people spoke very clearly in August about what they wanted to do on that subject, and it was not a ban. It was an absolute vote rejecting a ban,” Miller said.
Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, said she expected to see anti-abortion legislation such as a 15-week abortion ban or restrictions on physician licenses. Winn plans on working with her community to fight restrictive abortion measures.
“We work through our constituents and those communities that voted down that amendment,” Winn said.
Debate about abortion has been constant since the August amendment was shot down by Kansas voters, but discussions have ramped up as the legislative session approaches. Outside the House of Representatives during the Tuesday caucus meeting, anti-abortion advocates stood holding signs and made appearances with their children on the balcony inside the House.
One of the anti-abortion advocates, Kaitlin Keeling, said she was there to ask legislators to support a total ban on abortion.
“We’re letting people know that abortion is unconstitutional, that all people have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Right now the pre-born in Kansas are being slaughtered and they’re not given equal protection under the law and the Constitution, which they rightfully have,” Keeling said.
A Kansas judge has blocked a 2011 law preventing women from accessing abortion medication via telemedicine, in a move abortion providers called a step in the right direction. The state still has many other abortion restrictions in place.
Kansas abortion laws have been criticized by abortion-rights advocates as unnecessarily restrictive. State law requires patients to undergo an ultrasound before the abortion procedure, with the provider instructed to offer to show the image to the patient.
Among other restrictions, abortions are illegal 22 weeks after gestation, except when a mother’s health is excessively compromised. Minors need parental consent to have an abortion, and private health insurance policies — along with public employee insurance and Medicaid — don’t cover abortion services unless the patient’s life is in danger.
Judge Teresa Watson reinstated a temporary injunction to prohibit enforcement of the 2011 law on Nov. 23.
Before the ruling, using telemedicine to prescribe abortion medication was prohibited by a law that required women seeking abortions to have an in-person visit with a doctor. The ruling was a result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Trust Women, an organization dedicated to providing abortion care to underserved communities.
The decision allows Kansas clinics to provide telemedicine abortion services, though the legal battle will likely continue.
With Kansas’ overall workforce shortage and a lack of medical workers across the state, abortion-rights organizations said the law was an obstacle for women living in rural areas, where medical care has been especially strained. Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, communications director for Trust Women, said providing telemedicine visits would help address the shortage of in-person medical care.
“We very much view the telehealth ruling as the right thing to do. And it brings Kansas back in line with national best practices, with scientific standards, medical standards, and so we feel that that’s a step in the right direction. And we will definitely be moving forward thoughtfully and deliberately with any kind of programming around telehealth that we do,” Gingrich-Gaylord said.
The anti-abortion group Kansans For Life condemned the telemedicine visits, saying that doctors would not be able to determine how old the fetus was. Jeanne Gawdun, the organization’s director of government relations, said she was concerned women would be able to skirt the legal abortion limits with the visits.
“Of course the abortionist has to be able to date the pregnancy to make sure that the woman is not further along than the 10 weeks recommendation that these chemical abortion pills are supposed to be used. So how do they do that when they’re not actually in the same room with the woman and being able to verify how far along she is?” Gawdun said.
Gingrich-Gaylord said telemedicine prescription of abortion pills was safe, effective and long supported by medical professionals and research. Gingrich-Gaylord said anti-abortion activists didn’t have the same knowledge as people working in the field.
“I would just say don’t believe them. They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Gingrich-Gaylord said.
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