Kansas House approves bill requiring emergency care of infants born alive during abortions
Bill raises potential of physicians being sentenced to more than 12 years in prison
Rep. Bill Clifford, a Republican from Garden City, said he supported a bill mandating emergency health care for infants who survive an abortion, noting he was alarmed medical professionals chose to engage in the “ghastly” procedure. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The Kansas House overwhelming voted Wednesday to send legislation to the Kansas Senate mandating health professionals — under the threat of criminal prosecution — deliver emergency medical care to infants found to have a pulse or breathing after an attempted abortion.
Passage of the bill wasn’t in doubt, but the House’s 88-34 majority demonstrated sufficient support in the chamber to override Gov. Laura Kelly if a veto occurred.
Perspectives on House Bill 2313 were illuminated by Rep. Trevor Jacobs, R-Fort Scott, and Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, D-Overland Park. Jacobs voted for the bill, while Vaught did not.
“This bill takes away the right of a mother to make their own medical decisions,” Vaughn said. “What this bill does is place significant liabilities on abortion providers and hospitals, and creates gray area where none existed before.”
Jacobs, who has endorsed proposals to ban abortion in Kansas, said he was disturbed by perpetuation of abortion rights in the state. That fundamental constitutional right was articulated in 2019 by the Kansas Supreme Court and affirmed in a statewide public vote in 2022 rejecting a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to nullify that court opinion.
“I simply hate the fact that in the state of Kansas we would allow the barbaric murder and dismemberment of an innocent child in the mother’s womb,” Jacobs said. “I pray for the day when we would stop killing our own children and ask God for forgiveness and mercy.”
The GOP-dominated House engaged in lively debate Tuesday on the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.” The measure now moves over to the Senate.
The felony offense
Rep. Ron Bryce, a Coffeyville Republican, said the state government mandate folded into the Bill would require physicians and others to respond to a live birth by transferring the premature baby to a hospital. He said the statute would reduce potential of a newborn being placed on a table to die or that an infant’s life would be taken by someone engaged in the abortion procedure.
He said federal law didn’t offer robust protection of infants born under circumstances of an abortion, but the Kansas measure would allow civil and criminal penalties for offenders. The bill would allow any person who attempted or performed an overt act to kill a child born alive during an abortion to be charged with a severity level 1 person felony — the same as someone accused of second-degree murder. The proposed sentence in the House bill could lead to incarceration of a health professional from 12 years to 54 years.
“We are moral people. Those most innocent among us should be protected,” said Bryce, a physician. “This bill deals with the messy aftermath of abortion when there’s a living, breathing baby.”
GOP Rep. Bill Clifford, a surgical ophthalmologist from Garden City, said he couldn’t muster sympathy — only empathy — for physicians who follow a “ghastly” career path leading to a job providing women with abortion services. He relied on a conscientious objection to avoid medical school training in the procedure.
“You’re still in that clinic and you’re still in the facility and you’re in the back room and you see what ends up in a bucket or a dish. There’s a child there,” Clifford said.
Health care interference
Rep. Melissa Oropeza, a Democrat from Kansas City and a nurse practitioner, said the legislation would override the health care plan established by a patient, her family and her health care provider in a “cruel and unjust” manner. She said a majority of Kansas voters affirmed the constitutional right to abortion in August 2022, an vote of the people that ought to be respected by the Legislature.
“I ask that we truly question ourselves on what we are doing and how we are overriding and interfering with health care,” Oropeza said.
The bill amounted to a declaration that health care professionals couldn’t be trusted to make important decisions on behalf of patients, said Rep. Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence.
“The government is attempting to provide a one-size-fits-all, a one-way roadmap for how to deal with these situations. This is governmental overreach. This is government entering the patient’s room with you and your physician,” Haswood said.
Democratic Rep. Dan Osman of Overland Park temporarily derailed debate on the bill by proposing an amendment that would expand eligibility for Medicaid to as many as 150,000 lower- and moderate-income Kansans. The GOP majority in the House decided — 82-35 — the amendment wasn’t germane to the bill requiring medical attention for newborns. The House rules committee, led by Topeka Republican Rep. Fred Patton, recommended the House not entertain consideration of the Medicaid expansion amendment.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican and die-hard opponent of Medicaid expansion, backed Patton and put an exclamation point on conversation about whether Osman’s amendment was an appropriate subject for the bill.
“If you are a law-abiding citizen, you believe in the rule of law, you know that this cannot be germane,” Hawkins said.
Under the bill, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would issue an annual report on the infants born alive during attempted abortions. The office of attorney general said the measure, if signed into law, was likely to be challenged on constitutional grounds.
Happening in Kansas?
Aileen Berquist, policy director for the ACLU of Kansas, said the organization was adamantly opposed to House Bill 2313 because it would insert politicians into the private medical decisions of individuals and families. She said the legislation relied on “inflammatory, political rhetoric to push an anti-abortion agenda” with “far-reaching and inhumane impacts.”
She said the House bill would take away the ability of health professionals to provide appropriate compassionate or palliative care based on medical necessity and wishes of a family. Terminal fetuses would be forced to endure medically unnecessary procedures that would prolong suffering, she said.
“This bill is the opposite of compassionate,” Berquist said. “It is a cruel attack on people who are experiencing enormous pain and wrenching medical decisions.”
Anti-abortion organizations Kansans for Life and the Kansas Catholic Conference endorsed the bill during testimony before the House Health and Human Services Committee.
“We might not know how many babies within Kansas have been born alive from their attempted abortion,” said Lucrecia Nold, a policy specialist with the Kansas Catholic Conference. “Common sense tells us that this is almost assuredly happening right here in Kansas.”
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