Abortion bill to see final vote

Voters backed abortion rights. Yet Kansas could make doctors ask patients why they want abortions.

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March 7, 2024 - 2:16 PM

Democratic Representatives, front row from left, Mari-Lynn Poskin, Susan Ruiz and Jo Ella Hoye; and Brandon Woodard in back, voted to retain Gov. Kelly's veto against the anti-abortion measures in April 2023. Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas would require abortion providers to ask patients why they’re terminating their pregnancies and report the answers to the state under a measure moving through the Republican-controlled Legislature. Frustrated Democrats are pointedly suggesting a similar rule for vasectomies and erectile dysfunction.

The state House planned to take a final vote Thursday. The bill would require providers to ask patients 11 questions about their reasons for terminating a pregnancy, including that they can’t afford another child, raising a child would hinder their education or careers, or a spouse or partner wanted her to have an abortion. At least seven states require similar reporting.

Backers of the bill argued during a House debate Wednesday that the state needs data so lawmakers can create programs to address their concerns. Opponents saw an attempt to harass abortion providers, shame patients and stigmatize abortion.

Approval in the House would send the measure to the Senate. Both chambers have large anti-abortion majorities, and last year Republicans overrode vetoes of other restrictions on providers by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, a strong supporter of abortion rights.

Democrats are frustrated because Republicans and anti-abortion groups have pursued new rules for abortion providers and aid to anti-abortion counseling centers despite a decisive statewide vote in August 2022 to protect abortion rights under the state constitution.

“Quite honestly, I don’t understand it, you know, because I think Kansans made it very, very clear how they want Kansas to operate in this arena,” Kelly said during a brief Associated Press interview. “Why would an elected official who’s facing an election in November go against the wishes of their constituents?”

Unable to stop the bill from passing — and possibly becoming law — Democrats, particularly female lawmakers, attacked what they saw as the unfairness of requiring women to face detailed questions about their motives for seeking health care when men would not. Democrats started with vasectomies.

Then, Kansas City-area Democratic Rep. Stephanie Sawyer Clayton called erectile dysfunction “a scourge” that lowered the state’s birth rate. She suggested requiring doctors to ask male patients whether they wanted to treat it because a spouse wanted that or because it caused the man stress or embarrassment.

“If we are going to subject one group to humiliating questions when they get legal health care, then all groups should be subjected to humiliating questions when they get legal health care,” she said. “Or we can vote against this bill.”

Republicans argued that doctors often ask patients questions when they seek care, including about their mental health and whether they have guns in their homes.

“This is about abortion reporting. It has nothing to do with the male body parts,” said House health committee Chair Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican.

In Kansas, a doctor who provides an abortion already must report the patient’s age and ethnicity, whether the person was married and the method used to terminate a pregnancy.

The state allows abortions for almost any reason until the 22nd week of pregnancy, and that wouldn’t change under the bill.

States requiring doctors to report the reasons for an abortion include Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah. Minnesota’s Democratic-controlled Legislature repealed its similar reporting requirement last year.

The law in Oklahoma, where most abortions are banned, includes a list of more than 30 questions that a provider must ask a patient about her motives. Potential reasons include relationship problems and not feeling mature enough to raise a child.

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