TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday that Kansas has established "life as sacred and beautiful" with new laws requiring doctors to get written permission from parents before performing abortions on minors and tightening restrictions on procedures after the 21st week of pregnancy, based on disputed claims that fetuses can feel pain.
Brownback signed the parental consent legislation surrounded by legislators who supported it and leaders of anti-abortion groups. His action came four days after he signed the fetal-pain measure, and he used the signing ceremony at the Statehouse to celebrate the enactment of both laws.
"These bills establish that Kansas, in the heart of America, is a culture-of-life state — and we're not going back," Brownback said before signing the parental-consent legislation.
Abortion rights supporters labeled the laws dangerous and extreme, arguing that they'll hurt women by limiting their access to health care. Both take effect July 1.
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Abortion opponents expect another bill imposing specific regulations for abortion clinics to reach Brownback's desk after legislators return April 27 from their spring break. The bill would require annual, unannounced state inspections of the clinics, which Brownback favors.
Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said the changes are long overdue for not only reducing abortions but also protecting patients.
"These are commonsense regulations that should have been put in place a decade ago," he said. "It's kind of a new day here in Kansas."
Planned Parenthood lobbyist Sarah Gillooly said its lawyers are reviewing the new laws and believe parts of them — particularly provisions in the new fetal-pain law — are unconstitutional. But she said Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions at a clinic in Overland Park, is preparing to comply with the parental consent requirements.
Brownback and other supporters believe the new laws will withstand judicial scrutiny.
"I'm not worried," Brownback said after the signing ceremony.
Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, accused Brownback and legislators of political posturing.
The new abortion consent law will replace a statute requiring a doctor to notify one parent before performing an abortion on a minor. Starting in July, a doctor will have to obtain consent from at least one parent or guardian in a written, notarized statement, and both if the parents are still married. However, a minor could go to court to avoid the requirement.
The bill also would allow former patients or family members to sue doctors if they have evidence that the physician violated abortion restrictions.
The new fetal-pain statute is patterned after a law enacted in Nebraska last year. It outlaws abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy unless a woman's life is in danger or she faces substantial and permanent harm to her physical health.
The new law justifies its tighter restrictions by declaring that medical evidence shows the fetus can feel pain at that point — something that supporters say has been documented by numerous studies.
But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said it knows of no legitimate evidence showing that a fetus can experience pain. The group said certain hormones developing in the final trimester must be present for a fetus to feel pain.
The only clinic in Kansas known to have performed abortions regularly after the 21st week of pregnancy was that of physician George Tiller in Wichita. Tiller was shot to death in May 2009.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported recently that only one abortion performed in Kansas in 2010 came after the 21st week of pregnancy, compared to 121 in 2009 and 323 in 2008.