Kansas' new governor vetoes mandate on abortion 'reversal'

By The Canadian Press
April 22, 2019 - 2:15pm

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas' new Democratic governor on Monday vetoed a measure that would require clinics and doctors to tell their patients about a disputed treatment to stop a medication abortion after a woman has taken the first of two pills.

The action by Gov. Laura Kelly, an abortion-rights supporter, sets up a confrontation with a Republican-controlled Legislature that has had solid anti-abortion majorities for more than two decades. Supporters of the abortion "reversal" bill appeared to have the two-thirds majorities needed in both chambers to override Kelly's veto once lawmakers return on May 1 from a weekslong break.

Abortion opponents contend the bill ensures that women who harbour doubts about ending their pregnancies will learn that they can stop a medication abortion by taking the hormone progesterone. Abortion-rights supporters say the proposal would force doctors to provide dubious information to their patients.

Kelly said such a requirement would interfere with the relationship between patients and their physicians.

"This unwarranted legislation will create confusion and could be harmful to women's health," Kelly said. "The practice of medicine should be left to licensed health professionals, not elected officials."

Kansans for Life, the state's most influential anti-abortion group, immediately promised an attempt to override the veto. Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican, tweeted that the bill would allow women "to make an informed decision about their pregnancy."

"Women seeking abortion must not be denied current medical information that can save their babies," said Mary Kay Culp, Kansans for Life's executive director.

Seven states with Republican governors have enacted such laws, starting with Arkansas in 2015, and Oklahoma's GOP-controlled Legislature recently approved a measure. Kelly was elected last year and took office in January after the state imposed a raft of new abortion restrictions under her Republican predecessors.

Kelly's veto came after other states, including Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, have moved to ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. But Kansans for Life has long favoured an incremental approach and restrictions that it believes will survive court challenges.

Medication abortions using Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, are the most common way of terminating a pregnancy in Kansas, accounting for 61% of the total last year, according to statistics from the state health department.

Supporters of "reversal" laws cite a 2018 study led by an anti-abortion doctor and medical school professor in California and note that progesterone has been used for decades to prevent miscarriages.

"If they didn't know they could change their mind and all of a sudden they had a change of heart and they wanted to, we would want them to know that, that's available to them," said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, another GOP conservative from Wichita. "It absolutely saves a life, and that's important to us."

Abortion-rights supporters have said that study is flawed and that progesterone's use for reversing a medical abortion hasn't been adequately tested. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has disputed the usefulness of the procedure.

Kelly said in her veto message that the bill would create a mandate "that is not adequately supported by medical science."

"Requiring doctors to provide unscientific and unproven information violates the private relationship between women and their medical providers," said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of the Trust Women Foundation, which operates a clinic providing abortions in Wichita.

Under the Kansas legislation, an abortion clinic would have to display a sign with the abortion reversal notice, and the physician would have to tell a patient in writing that a medication abortion can be reversed. A clinic that failed to post a sign could be fined $10,000, and a doctor who failed to notify a patient could be charged with a misdemeanour for a first offence and a felony for a second.

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John Hanna, The Associated Press

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