Kansas lawmakers propose new restrictions on abortion providers
The Kansas Legislature will consider bills that would amend the state’s ‘born alive’ law and prevent abortion providers from purchasing liability insurance from a state fund.
Doctors who provide abortions in Kansas would be targeted with new restrictions and fines if two new bills introduced in the state Legislature this week become law.
A House bill would amend a law passed last year requiring doctors to provide life-saving medical care to babies born alive during an abortion — a scenario opponents say does not occur in Kansas. The new proposal would allow those babies or their parents to sue the abortion provider for any injuries they incurred due to the procedure.
“There are stories of people who have survived an abortion,” said state Rep. Brett Fairchild, a Stanton Republican who introduced the bill. “I think those individuals — the ones that have to live with injuries that they sustained from that — should have the right to receive compensation.”
Fairchild said he’s not aware of any Kansans who have survived an abortion.
Abortion rights advocates said the bill, like the original “born alive” law, is an effort to give abortion a misleading and negative public image.
“It’s another form of fear-mongering,” said Amber Sellers, advocacy director for Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Wichita. “As abortion is regulated in our state, this situation doesn’t exist.”
Abortion providers say it’s exceedingly rare for babies to be born living as the result of an abortion. And, they say, it can only happen if the abortion occurs later in pregnancy, when a fetus is capable of surviving outside the uterus — typically thought to begin around 23 or 24 weeks. In Kansas, abortions are illegal after 21 weeks except to save the mother’s life.
“The main consequence of these bills, especially when they may not have an apparent concrete effect on daily practice, is stigmatization,” said Zachary Gingrich-Gaylord, Trust Women’s communications director. “They’re meant to hijack the conversation.”
Liability insurance for abortion providers
A second bill, introduced in the Kansas Senate, would bar clinics that provide “elective” abortions — which health care providers say is a misleading term — from securing professional liability insurance from the state’s Health Care Stabilization Fund. A similar bill failed last year after Republicans narrowly fell short of the votes needed to override a veto by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat.
Proponents of the proposal have argued that Kansas prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion. The Health Care Stabilization Fund is financed by an annual surcharge paid by health care providers and does not receive money from the State General Fund — although money can be transferred to defend claims filed against certain providers at the University of Kansas Medical Center, which does not provide abortions except in medical emergencies.
“This bill goes against the will of the voters by depriving women of access to their constitutional right,” Kelly wrote regarding the veto last year. “It is also misleading. The truth is, no taxpayer dollars go to the Health Care Stabilization Fund.”
Danielle Underwood, communications director for the anti-abortion advocacy group Kansans for Life, said the group supports the liability insurance bill. She said the group has not yet reviewed the “born alive” amendment.
Kansas lawmakers consider other limits on abortion
The bills are the new first anti-abortion proposals this year that appear to have a chance at becoming law in Kansas.
Last week a group of conservative Republicans, including Fairchild, introduced a near-total abortion ban that would also allow private citizens to sue abortion providers and others who help women get abortions. It would almost certainly violate the Kansas Constitution, which the state Supreme Court has ruled protects the right to an abortion. Kansas voters rejected a proposal to change that in 2022.
Fairchild said he thinks the “born alive” amendment is more likely to become law.
“(The total ban) is more symbolic — just letting people know where we stand on the issue, that we’re strongly pro-life,” he said. “(The new amendment) is a little bit more of a pragmatic bill that would probably have a better chance of passing. And also, it’d have a far better chance of being upheld as constitutional.”
In Kansans for Life’s legislative agenda released last week, the group said it would ask lawmakers to enact tax credits that would send more state money to anti-abortion counseling centers, which got $2 million from Kansas in last year’s budget. The agenda also includes new ultrasound requirements, stricter data reporting rules for clinics that provide abortions and a call to require child support starting at conception.
It comes as a number of the state’s existing abortion restrictions are on hold while a judge considers a lawsuit brought by abortion providers alleging that the restrictions are unconstitutional.
Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.
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