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Kansas governor vetoes abortion pill reversal bill and says it's based on ‘uncertain science’

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service

Republicans vowed to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's veto when lawmakers return to the Statehouse next week.

Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has vetoed a bill that would make doctors tell patients that abortion pills may be reversible, citing its “uncertain science” that she says could harm Kansans’ health.

“In August, Kansans made clear that they believe personal healthcare decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Topeka,” Kelly said in a statement. “This bill would interfere with that relationship.”

Republican leadership vowed to override Kelly’s veto when lawmakers return to the Statehouse next week.

The experimental treatment is purported to let some women halt the medication abortion process once they’ve begun it. The procedure flies in the face of mainstream medical guidance, with the American College of Obstetricians calling it “unproven and unethical.” A smaller subset of doctors says the treatment — which involves giving women hormones to counteract the first of two abortion-inducing drugs — can be effective.

But anti-abortion organizations, including the influential lobbying group Kansans for Life and the Kansas Catholic Conference, have advocated for the bill, saying it ensures women are informed about their options if they have regrets once they’ve taken the first abortion pill.

“Once again, Gov. Kelly has sided with the extremist abortion industry over empowering women with facts about their true options concerning medication abortions and the potential to reverse the process once it has begun,” KFL spokesperson Danielle Underwood said in a statement.

It’s the second piece of abortion-related legislation sent to the governor’s desk this year, following a controversial “born-alive” bill — which Kelly vetoed last week.

And it comes less than a year after Kansas voters resoundingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have enabled lawmakers to pass more stringent abortion restrictions, up to and including a total ban. Abortion is currently legal in Kansas, with significant restrictions, up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Republican House Speaker Dan Hawkins blasted the veto.

“House Republicans stand united to act during veto session to ensure women in this incredibly vulnerable position are provided with all the facts,” Hawkins, from Wichita, said in a statement.

Supporters of the bill fell just short of a veto-proof majority in each chamber when they sent it to Kelly, with several members absent. Lawmakers narrowly failed to override Kelly’s veto of a similar bill in 2019. But this year, there’s a new crop of lawmakers and an override is uncertain.

If the bill becomes law, doctors would face criminal and civil penalties for not giving patients the controversial information about abortion pill reversibility.

Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, said in a statement that it would force doctors to give inaccurate information to their patients.

“Lying to women does not empower them; it endangers them,” she said.

Anti-abortion lawmakers in red states commonly pushed similar legislation before Roe v. Wade was overturned as a way to chip away at abortion rights at a time when states could not ban abortion entirely. Eight states have “abortion pill reversal” laws in effect, but most have since banned abortion in most cases. Kansas lawmakers are the first to send such a bill to their governor’s desk this year.

The Kansas bill would also clarify the definition of “abortion” under state law to specify that terminating an ectopic pregnancy does not count. Neither would care for managing miscarriages, which sometimes uses procedures identical to those used in elective abortions.

Democrats have suggested the provision is designed to make future anti-abortion legislation or constitutional amendments more palatable for voters if they believe it won’t impact care for pregnancy complications.

Republicans have claimed that some Kansans voted against stripping abortion protections from the Kansas constitution last August due to concerns that lawmakers would make it illegal for doctors to terminate ectopic pregnancies — which are not viable and can be life-threatening.

It comes amid reports in other states of women with life-threatening pregnancy complications being denied recommended medical care due to fears around violating state abortion bans, including a Missouri woman’s case last year.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

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.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.