Kansas lawmakers send 'abortion pill reversal' bill to governor's desk
Reproductive rights advocates criticized the bill, which would require that doctors give patients medically unproven information.
The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature has passed a bill that would require doctors to give patients medically disputed information that abortion pills may be reversible.
That legislation goes to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk amid criticism from abortion rights advocates that it would promote bogus medical care.
The bill would also clarify that termination of an ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage care is not considered abortion under state law.
Although highly regulated, abortion remains legal in Kansas until 22 weeks gestation.
The bill would require that Kansas doctors tell patients that the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone — the first in a two-drug regimen used for first trimester abortions — is not always effective in ending a pregnancy. The state health department would be required to maintain a website that directs patients to information about how to get assistance in attempting to reverse the medication.
Mifepristone blocks progesterone, an essential pregnancy hormone. Proponents of “abortion pill reversal” say that some women can continue their pregnancies after taking the drug if they receive a high dose of progesterone.
“Anytime you have a chance to save a human’s life, I say go for it,” Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican from Hutchinson, said on the Senate floor late Thursday night.
But the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists has said the treatment doesn’t meet clinical standards and a recent study was halted due to safety concerns.
“This is bad policy because it requires physicians to lie to their patients because members of this body think they know better than those doctors,” said Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Democrat from Lenexa.
Abortion pills are used in over half of abortions in the U.S. and over two-thirds of abortions in Kansas.
The bill passed 80 to 39 in the House and 26 to 11 in the Senate, with several lawmakers absent and not voting. To override a likely veto by Kelly, lawmakers would need 84 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate. In 2019, lawmakers were unable to override Kelly’s veto of a similar bill. Republicans have gained numbers in the Legislature since then.
This is the second abortion-related bill to reach Kelly’s desk this year, following a controversial “born-alive” bill lawmakers passed Tuesday. Both were sponsored by anti-abortion groups. They come less than a year after those groups suffered a landslide loss when Kansas voters rejected a ballot measure that would’ve made it easier for lawmakers to further restrict or ban abortion.
Kansas is one of three states considering “abortion pill reversal” legislation this year, along with Texas and Massachusetts. Kansas is the first state to send such a bill to its governor. Eight states have similar laws on the books.
Abortion rights groups criticized the move as an attempt to erode abortion rights in defiance of voters’ wishes.
“The vote in August was decisive, its implications clear as day: Kansans support our constitutional right to make private health care decisions for ourselves, without interference from extremist lawmakers,” Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of the Wichita-based clinic Trust Women, said in a statement on Friday.
Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the proposals jeopardize patient safety.
“These extreme pieces of legislation spread inaccurate, irresponsible, and dangerous information that directly attacks evidence-based reproductive health care and the physicians trained to provide it,” she said in a statement.
But Danielle Underwood, spokesperson for the state’s leading anti-abortion lobbying group Kansans for Life, said women have the right to know their options.
“Information is power — in this case, the power to save a life,” she said in an email. “We urge the governor to sign the bill, so this life-saving information is not hidden away from women."
Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, a Democrat from Overland Park, criticized the last-minute legislative log-rolling that swapped the abortion definition and abortion pill reversal for another bill dealing with family visitation rights at hospitals and nursing homes. She said the language defining abortion was an effort to lay the groundwork for a future attempt by lawmakers to strip abortion rights from the state constitution.
“It’s clear that it’s trying to clarify what an acceptable abortion is in the scenario that another constitutional amendment comes up,” she said.
Such an amendment was introduced this year, but hasn’t moved out of committee.
Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Republican from Eudora, said the provision would clear up what she described as misinformation ahead of the constitutional amendment vote last year.
“We consistently heard in advertising … that if you had an ectopic pregnancy or a tubal pregnancy, you could go to prison,” she said. “I wish that we had truth.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, several women in other states have been reportedly denied care for miscarriages due to doctor confusion and fear around violating abortion bans.
Also this week, lawmakers added language to a property tax bill that would direct up to $10 million annually in tax dollars to anti-abortion counseling centers, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers.
House lawmakers passed the bill 76 to 43. The Senate has not yet approved the bill, but could do so — sending it to the governor’s desk — when lawmakers reconvene at the end of the month.
Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. She's on Twitter at @rosebconlon.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.