TOPEKA — Strict limits would be placed on abortions after 22 weeks — based on disputed research that fetuses can feel pain at that point of development — under a bill approved Wednesday by the House.
The fetal-pain provision was included in one of two bills the House passed to increase abortion restrictions. Both bills still must go to the Senate.
Other provisions would require consent of both parents for minors to get an abortion and would require doctors to provide the state with more detailed records when they perform an abortion.
The concept that a fetus in the second trimester experiences pain evoked the most impassioned debate. Traditionally, the third trimester has been a cutoff point for abortions except in the most extreme circumstances.
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"Dramatic advances in medicine and science have proven without a shadow of a doubt that our unborn children can and do feel pain at least from the 22nd week of gestation," said Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee. "Our unborn children's agony is no less just because we can't hear their screams."
Proponents of House Bill 2218 relied on testimony before the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs and studies that indicate fetuses have pain receptors functioning before the third trimester.
Opponents of the bill argued that fetal-pain claims are based on shaky science.
Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita, said the concept of early fetal pain is "a totally new concept" and that laws should not be based on "something that may not be proven true."
"Most medical journals don't believe pain is felt until 29 to 30 weeks," said Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, a former anesthesiologist. "Every physician I've talked to agrees."
The bill makes an exception in cases where the life of the mother is at risk or if continuing the pregnancy would impair one of her major bodily functions.
Much of the debate centered on an unsuccessful amendment seeking an exception for aborting fetuses with terminal birth defects.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, protested that such an amendment would perpetuate discrimination against the disabled.
He said previous Legislatures "made a decision that we would not be a state that says that disabled children are disposable."
He said using pain capability as a milepost for gestation is a revolution in terms of viability and "a crucial shift in pegging restrictions on late-term abortions."
Bollier, however, contended that fetuses with insufficient brain development probably can't feel pain at any point of gestation.
She said it would be more painful for the mother to have to carry to term a fetus that is "incapable of life."
Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, said she lived through that situation twice, giving birth to babies that lived for less than three hours.
She said that if she had aborted the pregnancies, she thinks it would have weighed on her conscience for life.
Loganbill argued that the abortion bills are "extremely intrusive" in the difficult decisions made regarding carrying to term fetuses with severe birth defects.
She added that she finds it offensive that the Legislature making such decisions is dominated by men.
House Bill 2035 would require parental consent for minors to obtain abortions. Current law requires that one parent be notified, but neither parent can veto a daughter's abortion.
In debate on that bill, some representatives objected to changing consent requirements, citing abuse within families and fear of reprisals as reasons for a girl not to seek the permission of both parents.
"Lots of times these situations don't occur in happy homes," Rep. Geraldine Flaherty, D-Wichita, said. "If there is a threat of domestic violence, getting the consent of both parents will be difficult."
Kinzer said minors could still petition a judge to bypass the requirement, as they can with the current notification provision.
He said that existing laws allow a non-parental adult or court-appointed official to assist girls with that process, and that will not change.
HB 2035 also would change the terminology the state uses regarding abortions. The term "fetus" would be changed to "unborn child" in all state laws, and definitions of "viability" and "partial birth abortion" would be changed.
Other provisions would:
* Allow the state Attorney General's Office to prosecute alleged abortion crimes when the local district or county attorney has decided not to pursue charges.
* Allow a woman's close family members to sue if they believe an illegal abortion was performed.
* Require abortion providers to give patients a newly revised informed consent statement including wording that abortion "terminates the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."
* Expand record keeping on late-term abortions to require providers to give a specific medical diagnosis asserting that the procedure is necessary to preserve the mother's life or major bodily functions.
Abortion opponents had long complained that they felt Wichita physician George Tiller's reporting forms contained insufficient information. Tiller was murdered in 2009 by an abortion opponent.
No late-term abortions are believed to have been performed in Kansas since his death.