A bill designed to keep Kansas from subsidizing abortions even indirectly through tax breaks advanced Friday in the state House, but critics saw it as potentially harmful to the state’s medical school and a cancer center seeking national recognition.
The House gave the measure first-round approval on a voice vote, setting up final action, which is scheduled for Monday. Abortion opponents have a strong majority in the House, and the bill is expected to pass and go to the Senate.
The bill would prohibit Kansas taxpayers from claiming abortion expenses under a deduction for medical costs when filing their income taxes. It also would deny tax breaks to abortion providers, such as an exemption to the sales tax that nonprofit groups claim when purchasing goods.
It also would prevent state employees, including doctors-in-training at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., from performing abortions on state property or state time. The medical center worried the accreditation of its obstetrics and gynecology program would be in danger, and lawmakers added a provision saying its medical residents could do abortions off-site, on their own time, for a year. But the medical center wants a permanent exception.
And during the debate, Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, said yet another provision of the bill – suggesting a potential link between abortion and breast cancer – could hurt efforts by the University of Kansas Cancer Center, also in Kansas City, to win a coveted designation as a national center from the National Cancer Institute. The NCI has concluded that no link between abortion and breast cancer has been established.
Abortion opponents said both concerns are unfounded and part of an effort by critics of the bill to slow its progress through the Republican-controlled Legislature to GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent who would likely sign the measure.
“The specific goal of this bill is to ensure that no taxpayer funds are used, either directly or indirectly, to fund abortions, abortion providers, or abortion training,” said Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, who opposes abortion.
The medical center is part of the debate because in March, the Chicago-based Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education issued a statement saying that under its standards, institutions objecting to abortion can avoid having them performed on-site but must make arrangements for training elsewhere.
Abortion opponents contend federal law would protect the medical center if it offered no abortion training, but legislators were concerned enough to amend the bill to grant an exception for abortions performed by residents off-site on their own time – through June 2013.
“We decided that we were going to play nice,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, a leading abortion opponent. “What do I think is best for the state of Kansas? No taxpayer dollars paying residents to kill babies.”
Kinzer is upset the medical center wants a permanent exception. But medical center spokeswoman C.J. Janovy said it has a clear goal of “maintaining a strong and accredited medical residency program for our state.”
Gatewood objected to a provision of the bill adding breast cancer to the list of potential risks that must be mentioned in written information provided to women seeking abortions. State-provided materials have long done that, but Kansas law has not specifically required it.
The National Cancer Institute has said research results on a potential link were inconsistent up until the mid-1990s. It has said newer studies, better-designed and involving more women, consistently show no link.
Gatewood said insisting otherwise in state law doesn’t build a good case for the KU Cancer Center in its seven-year quest to achieve an NCI designation, which would lure research work and federal and private funds and boost the region’s biosciences industry.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri issued a statement saying the bill would require doctors to “provide medically inaccurate misinformation.”
But Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, called Gatewood’s argument “a stalking horse” and noted that legislators have heard testimony questioning the NCI’s conclusions.