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How Kansas is closing in on becoming the first abortion-free state

An unnerving tour of reproductive rights in Kansas.



On June 1, Speaker Mike O'Neal (R-Hutchinson) announced his retirement from the Kansas House of Representatives after nearly three decades in the Legislature. It's been a banner year for O'Neal. In early January, he was shamed into a public apology for forwarding an e-mail that suggested a physical comparison between the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and First Lady Michelle Obama, or "Mrs. YoMama," as the e-mail referred to her.

Not long after, O'Neal found himself in hot water for circulating another Obama-related e-mail. The message cited a Bible verse, Psalms 109:8: "Let his days be few and brief; and let others step forward to replace him."

O'Neal — that rascal — wrote in the accompanying text: "At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!"

Under fire for the comments — 30,000 petition signatures calling for his resignation were quickly rounded up — O'Neal apologized again and explained that he was not casually praying for the death of the president of the United States. No, he was just commenting on Obama's remaining days in office — you know, like the next line of the Psalm says: "May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow." No, nothing casual about that.

If there's something O'Neal loathes with as much furious passion as the Obamas and their big-government agenda, it's that women in his state are legally allowed to make personal decisions about whether to have an abortion. In his emotional farewell speech, O'Neal spoke of being born in "inner Kansas City" and brought to a small town in western Kansas by his adoptive parents. It wasn't until years later, he told his colleagues in the House, that the full significance of his adoption sank in.

"I realized how close I had come to being just another Missouri abortion statistic," he said, having apparently determined that Muck Fizzou Babykillers lacked the rhetorical gravitas he sought to convey.

No longer an endangered fetus, the House speaker has presided over a Republican majority increasingly hellbent on eroding women's reproductive rights. Gov. Sam Brownback has consistently promised to sign any abortion restriction that crosses his desk, and O'Neal's House has rubber-stamped virtually every piece of anti-abortion legislation brought to the floor. Only moderate Senate Republicans — an endangered species — stand in the way of making Kansas the Wire-Hanger State.

Some of these rollbacks are already quietly in effect or are soon to be law. Other, more sweeping ones will be introduced in the 2013 session. What does this mean for the women of Kansas? Read on for an unnerving tour of reproductive rights in the Sunflower State.

Laws Already in Effect

The 2011 Kansas legislative session was arguably more of an assault on women's reproductive rights than the one that just finished. Some lowlights you might have missed if you weren't paying close attention:

• H.B. 2218: Bans abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy except in cases where an immediate danger is posed to the woman's life.

Translation: Only a small number of abortions occur after 21 weeks, but when they do, they're typically for women who discover serious health complications with the baby. (A number of medical issues are not detectable by ultrasound until around week 20.) Abortion opponents claim that a fetus can feel pain at the 20th week — a position disputed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and numerous other nonpartisan medical organizations.

• H.B. 2035: Before terminating the pregnancy of a minor, doctors must obtain consent from both parents (if still married).

• H.B. 2075: Prohibits any private insurance company from covering an abortion except in cases where that abortion is performed to save the life of the mother. Requires policyholders to purchase a separate insurance rider for coverage.

Translation: Surprising (read: not surprising) to see the state dictating what private companies can and cannot insure. Also, unintended pregnancies and fetal anomalies are not the types of things people tend to plan for. Also, there are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Newly Signed Laws

The biggest victory for anti-abortion advocates in the 2012 session was H Sub SB 62: the so-called "conscience bill." Under this law, which goes into effect July 1, doctors may refuse to prescribe, and pharmacists may refuse to dispense, birth-control pills and morning-after pills (such as Plan B) or any other care that they "reasonably believe may result in the termination of a pregnancy."

"Our biggest concern with 62 is not just that a pharmacist doesn't have to honor a prescription," says Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. "It's that it allows that pharmacist to also not refer the woman to someone who will meet her needs. We've had these 'conscience' clauses before in this country, but they always require the medical provider to offer referral sources. In this bill, that's not required."

Virginia Phillips, of Trust Women, a pro-choice PAC, adds: "The bill will likely have the most effect on low-income women in rural Kansas communities, who will now have to drive across the state and incur additional costs in order to receive basic information and simple care if their only local pharmacist has a moral objection to birth control."

Bills Defeated in 2012but Likely to Return in 2013

H Sub SB 313: This 70-page omnibus bill would have:

• Rewritten the state's tax code to eliminate any direct or indirect tax subsidy for abortions and abortion providers (such as Planned Parenthood).

• Protected physicians who withhold medical information from a pregnant woman because they believed that disclosure of said information would result in the termination of a pregnancy.

• Required physicians to tell a woman seeking an abortion that doing so would increase her risk of developing breast cancer (a scientifically unsupported statement).

• Prohibited doctors in training at the University of Kansas Medical Center from performing abortions on the university's property. ("We should not pay residents to kill babies," Rep. Lance Kinzer, the author of the bill, said during a debate in the House.)

"It's a hodgepodge of provisions that have been offered before in previous sessions," Brownlie says. "Throughout this session, we thought it had a decent chance of passage. To put patients in a position where their physician is allowed to withhold information about their own bodies to them is just particularly egregious. It was essentially Lance Kinzer and his colleagues scouring the tax codes for anything that might remotely touch abortion services — using the Kansas tax code to impose their religious ideologies."

The bill sailed through the House, 88–31, but was halted by the Senate, which voted against it, mostly over concerns that it would endanger KU Med's accreditation in its obstetrics and gynecology program.

"It's an election year, so the bill was a hot potato for liberal Republicans who didn't want an additional vote on their record," says Kansans for Life's Kathy Ostrowski. "It'll be back next term."

H Sub SB 313 Roll Call

The following local members of the Kansas House of Representatives voted against H Sub SB 313:

Barbara Ballard, Lawrence • Barbara Bollier, Fairway • Tom Burroughs, Kansas City, Kansas • Pat Colloton, Leawood • Paul Davis, Lawrence • Stan Frownfelter, Kansas City, Kansas • Broderick Henderson, Kansas City, Kansas • Kathy Wolfe Moore, Kansas City, Kansas • Louis Ruiz, Kansas City, Kansas • Mike Slattery, Mission • Tom Sloan, Lawrence • Sheryl Spalding, Overland Park • Kay Wolf, Prairie Village

The following local members of the Kansas House of Representatives voted for H Sub SB 313

Rob Bruchman, Overland Park • Jim Denning, Overland Park • Owen Donohoe, Shawnee • Amanda Grosserode, Lenexa • Brett Hildabrand, Merriam • S. Mike Kiegerl, Olathe • Lance Kinzer, Olathe • Marvin Kleeb, Overland Park • Kelly Meigs, Lenexa • Robert Montgomery, Olathe • Charlotte O'Hara, Overland Park • Michael Peterson, Kansas City, Kansas • John Rubin, Shawnee • Arlen Siegfreid, Olathe • Greg Smith, Overland Park •Ron Worley, Lenexa

The Plan Against Plan B

Kansans for Life is the most active and politically powerful anti-abortion organization in the Sunflower State. The group has advocated and lobbied for recent restrictions on abortion rights in Kansas. The Pitch recently spoke to its legislative director, Kathy Ostrowski.

The Pitch: House Bill 62, the "conscience" bill, was signed into law and goes into effect next month. It permits pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth-control pills or the Plan B pill if they morally object to doing so. Did your organization consider this a victory?

Ostrowski: We're pleased about the conscience protection. But the idea that women in Kansas won't be able to get Plan B is not accurate. You can get Plan B or birth-control pills overnighted to you online from Canada or India or wherever. Women in Kansas will have no problem getting Plan B before or after July 1.

Why even lobby to pass the law, then?

It's a hedge. For the doctors and pharmacists who don't want to participate in this chemical assault on women — and it's a very small percentage, but the ones who want to continue to not dispense these pills and not lose their jobs — their rights are strengthened. They arguably had this protection before July 1, but now it's stronger and clearer. The previous law was 40 years old, and there weren't chemical abortions then. This updates the law for physicians and pharmacists.

Do you believe Plan B should be a legal, accessible drug?

Plan B is a unique drug — it's the same components as birth control, but multiplied. Birth-control pills require a prescription from a doctor based on a medical evaluation. Plan B does not. You have to ask the pharmacist for it, but anybody can get it. Plan B gets none of the safeguards that birth-control pills get. And so the pharmacist is taking on a legal responsibility there. Who will be blamed for blood clots or other complications that result? The pharmacist. He could be sued if it turns out to be harmful to the woman's health.

Would a pharmacist really be sued for that? Has that ever happened?

Who knows? Look, the irritation to us is that we're a pro-life, anti-abortion organization. In Kansas, an abortion is a drug or procedure given to someone known to be pregnant. The line between the chemical and the surgical is blurred. Plan B is maybe not an abortion per se, but it's part of a chemical reproductive cartel that's bumping up against what we're trying to do as a pro-life group.

Is the ultimate goal of Kansans for Life for Kansas to be the first state in the union where abortion is illegal?

We have no plaque on our wall that says that. We're trying to be a consistent pathway that educates people that abortion is harmful, that it kills the next generation, and that it's harmful to women. The Supreme Court doesn't allow states to have discussions like that. They've closed down normal process on that. We feel that the Supreme Court will eventually change its mind, just like it did when it said that black people were three-fifths of a person. We're trying to create a culture of life. We want a society where abortion is not just illegal but unthinkable.

A Moderate Referral

Barbara Bollier is a retired anesthesiologist, a former bioethics instructor at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, and a Republican representing the 25th District in the Kansas House of Representatives. (Her constituency includes Fairway and parts of Prairie Village, Overland Park, Mission Hills and Westwood Hills.) A moderate, Bollier voted against the anti-abortion bills that the House passed in the 2012 session. The Pitch caught up with her to get her take on recent legislation.

The Pitch: You were one of the few local Republicans who opposed House Bills 62 and 313. You even introduced two amendments to 313 that were voted down. Why did you introduce those amendments?

Bollier: If you get an abortion in Kansas, you receive a handout from the state with information on it about abortion. In 313, they're adding a lot of language to that handout. It's this very extensive embryological saga about the development of the fetus: On this day the heart develops, on this day the lungs develop, etc. It's all accurate information, as long as it's related to a normal pregnancy. And I felt like — I know — that some women are choosing to terminate a pregnancy because the fetus is not developing normally, in which case that information is inaccurate. So all I wanted to add was a sentence that said, "The following description of fetal development refers to normal pregnancy. If your doctor has diagnosed a fetal anomaly, you can access more information on such conditions either from your physician or the NIH website."

I approached members of the committee and was told they wouldn't support it. So I asked the secretary of health to look at my amendments, and he agreed that they were reasonable, and he went to the committee and informed them that the KDHE [Kansas Department of Health and Environment] supported it. But the leader of the committee refused to include it.

Are you referring to Rep. Lance Kinzer?

Yes. So I brought the amendment to the House, and everybody followed the leader and voted it down. It was very disappointing to me. There's no reason not to have that in there. When you're making a decision about whether to terminate or carry a pregnancy, you need all the information you can get — from both sides. It's hard for me to understand because these amendments were helping make women more medically informed. They claim that these bills are about what's best for women in Kansas, but in situations like this, that's not true, in my view.

H.B. 313 also would have required physicians to inform patients that abortions cause breast cancer, which is scientifically unproved.

Clearly the intent is to scare women. There is some statistical evidence that women who have a miscarriage, or never become pregnant at all, may have an increased risk of breast cancer. But there's no research or data about the causes and effects. Nothing has been proved. With that, they're trying to extrapolate that idea to include terminated pregnancies, which doesn't make sense medically. There are many different causes for losing a pregnancy, and we don't know how any of it relates to breast cancer. I'm getting kind of medical here. But that's the point! Why are people trying to practice medicine in the Legislature? You start to get into some complex medical terminology, statistics, etc. That's what doctors are supposed to do, not state legislatures.

What was your objection to H.B. 62, the "conscience" bill?

My biggest problem is the word "refer." Pharmacists and physicians who object morally to abortion and birth control no longer have to refer patients to someone who will help them. I spoke to a number of pharmacists before this bill came to the floor, and they all said the same thing: If you don't believe in something, you have every right not to do it. But to refuse to refer a patient is different. That's imposing your religious beliefs, or whatever belief system you have, on someone else. And that's just wrong. We're supposed to have freedom of religion in this country.

Why do you think these bills get so much support in the House?

I think, in general, it gets very stressful in the House when there are abortion bills on the floor, no matter what side you're on. Lots of people want to be considered completely, 100 percent, with Kansans for Life. If they don't know where Kansans for Life stands on a certain issue, they'll just vote "No" to be safe.

As a Republican, does it worry you to vote against these bills?

My district is moderate and has been that way for a while, and I believe I represent the majority. I bring my background in medicine and bioethics into my votes. With abortion, there are always people on both sides, and people differ on it. But it's so little of what we do.

By the Numbers

Amount, so far, that the Kansas Attorney General's Office has paid outside lawyers to defend the state against challenges to anti-abortion legislation enacted in 2011.

Amount that Planned Parenthood would have lost in funds for non-abortion services, had federal courts not enjoined the law and ordered the state to continue funding Planned Parenthood.

Population of Wichita, Kansas, as of the 2010 Census.

Abortions performed in Wichita since abortion provider George Tiller was murdered in church in 2009 by an anti-abortion activist.

Number of abortion clinics in the state of Kansas.

Number of abortion clinics in Kansas outside the Kansas City metropolitan area.

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