Six months after Kansas voters decisively rejected an anti-abortion constitutional amendment, Republican lawmakers are moving forward with anti-abortion legislation.
Lawmakers voted Thursday morning to approve the telemedicine abortion ban, even though the state currently has language that does the same thing — and that law is currently in the midst of a challenge over its constitutionality. They also had a fight with the liability insurance for the abortion clinics.
Democrats said both measures go against an August vote in which residents rejected a measure that would have eroded a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that state constitutional protections exist for abortion rights. The Senate’s passage of the bill on Thursday was the first time the House had voted on anti-abortion legislation since the failure of Value Them Both.
Moreover:How Kansans for Life allocates taxpayer money to benefit anti-abortion pregnancy centers
“It strikes me, we just voted on this issue in August,” Senator Cindy Holscher said, D-Overland Park. “For a couple of years, we’ve been told that voters had to decide this issue, so we let voters decide this issue in August. I’m pretty confident from town halls and the emails I’ve gotten that people of Kansas believe that the matter has been decided and are surprised that a number of bills have now been introduced that reduce health care and reproductive health care.”
A number of related bills have been introduced but have not gained traction, including a measure allowing local governments to ban abortion and another by a bevy of conservatives to ban the practice statewide, despite the case judiciary of 2019.
But the issue was clearly not resolved in the Statehouse, and Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, insisted that the telemedicine abortion issue was completely separate from previous abortion debates.
“This bill has nothing to do with the constitutional amendment vote,” Baumgardner said.
Senate Speaker Ty Masterson R-Andover said, “40 percent of Kansas is okay with a blanket abortion ban, no exceptions. … It’s not what the amendment did, it’s what the understanding of the amendment did. I think there is a much larger group of people who are happy with the restrictions.”
Moreover:Telemedicine abortions can begin after the judge blocks the Kansas statute’s prohibition proceedings
Lawmakers amend telemedicine abortion amid court order
Kansas has a law on the books banning telemedicine abortions, but at least some clinics are offering telemedicine abortions thanks to a court order blocking enforcement of the law as it winds its way through the court system.
However, Republicans are pushing forward.
Senator Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson introduced SB 5, which would rewrite the telemedicine abortion ban to explicitly include prescribing abortion pills and add a provision prohibiting the governor from altering the law through an emergency declaration in case of disaster.
It is unclear what, if any, impact the legislation would realistically have in light of the injunction against the existing law.
Baumgardner said the bill is in line with a letter Attorney General Kris Kobach sent to Walgreens warning the company not to distribute the abortion drug mifepristone in Kansas due to the state’s current telehealth ban.
Moreover:Kris Kobach: Walgreens has no plans to distribute the mifepristone abortion pill in Kansas
Republicans argued that prescribing the pill via telemedicine posed safety risks.
“This isn’t banning chemical abortions through medication. It’s just saying not through telehealth because of the risks and dangers of doing so without being present with a doctor,” said Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora.
The Kansas Court of Appeals, essentially ordering Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson to issue the injunction, found telehealth abortion to be safe.
“Medical abortion is extremely safe, even safer than other common medical procedures such as wisdom tooth removals and colonoscopies,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City. “Serious complications requiring hospitalization occur in less than 0.03% of patients.”
Kelly would likely veto the bill, due to her vocal support for abortion rights. But the Senate had a veto-proof majority, as the bill passed 27-12. All Democrats opposed the bill, and Senator Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka voted.
Kansas abortion clinics may lose liability insurance
Lawmakers have also moved forward a bill that would effectively strip access to state professional liability insurance from abortion clinics, potentially jeopardizing medical licenses.
Anti-abortion activists and politicians argue that abortion is subsidized by taxpayers through the Health Care Stabilization Fund.
To address that concern, they proposed SB 219, which passed the Senate in a vote of 26-12, with the vote of two GOP senators. To be veto-proof, Dietrich or Senator Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, would have to change their yes vote.
Clark Shultz, executive director of the Health Care Stabilization Fund, said it was established in 1976 in a difficult insurance market for providers looking to find medical malpractice insurance, especially at an affordable cost. The fund provides a second tier of insurance for healthcare workers.
Taxpayer dollars apparently don’t fund the agency — nor do they subsidize the abortion clinic’s insurance — except to cover premiums for University of Kansas medical school students and students. However, the fund is a tax-funded state agency.
The bill would redefine “health care provider” to exclude “any facility where elective abortions are performed…”. State law defines “elective abortion” to include only saving the mother’s life. The bill is written to apply only to one facility and not directly affect their suppliers.
The exact impact of the bill remains uncertain.
Abortion clinics would not be able to obtain professional liability insurance through the State Health Care Stabilization Fund. But those vendors would still be required to maintain insurance coverage as a condition of licensing.
Gossage said, “Where these funds are coming from, it’s kind of irrelevant,” seemingly acknowledging that taxpayer money doesn’t otherwise support the fund.
“The genesis of this bill was that there were public dollars involved in providing for abortion, and indeed there are no public dollars involved,” Pettey said. “It really begs the question of why this legislation is necessary.”
Gossage responded that abortion clinics still receive a state subsidy from the tax-funded agency and argued that they shouldn’t.
Masterson argued that even if taxpayer funding is not involved, the ban on taxpayer funding for abortion should be extended to other state resources.
“The logical connection is if we don’t allow taxpayer funding to support abortion, we won’t allow any of our state resources,” Masterson said. “It’s not about funding. It’s not about where the money comes from. … It’s about using state resources for the benefit of industry, and we as a state generally reject that.”