TOPEKA — Passing out blue and pink binders filled with testimony, abortion opponents pushed Wednesday for a state law that would ban abortions after 22 weeks, saying that fetuses can feel pain at that stage of development.
The bill is a new wrinkle in the abortion debate in Kansas and represents a potential path to challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed abortion as a Constitutional right.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri spokeswoman Sarah Gillooly calls House Bill 2218, sponsored by Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, "blatantly unconstitutional."
Members of the House committee on federal and state affairs heard only from supporters of the bill Wednesday. They will hear from opponents of the bill today.
The measure is modeled after a law in Nebraska which has yet to be challenged in court. At least five other state legislatures are considering similar bills this year.
Kinzer told members of the committee that "we know an awful lot more about fetal development and fetal pain than when Roe (Roe v. Wade) was decided. Unborn children do feel pain."
Julie Griffin, a Parsons physician, testified that she has been awestruck while caring for premature babies who showed signs of pain while doctors were trying to help them survive. She said fetuses feel pain more intensely because they don't have the ability to "downgrade" pain.
Griffin said adults can categorize pain. She said she recently burned her finger while baking cookies for a party. Her body, she said, signaled that the burned finger was not as important as enjoying the party. If she had broken her femur, her body, she said, would have signaled that she should skip the party. Fetuses, she said, are "unable to modulate or inhibit these responses until late in gestation."
Dressed in a white lab coat and citing her credentials, Griffin said she has helped families deal with end-of-life care and that the first question family members always ask is whether their loved one will feel pain. She asked legislators whether fetuses must suffer during abortion procedures and what "will you do as a legislator to prevent this?"
Representatives from Kansans for Life and the Kansas Catholic Conference also spoke in favor of the bill.
Opponents of the bill — which still would permit an abortion after 22 weeks if the woman's life was at risk or if continuing the pregnancy would cause impairment to one of her major bodily functions — say there's murky evidence about at what point fetuses feel pain.
Rep. Judy Loganbill, D-Wichita, said the "info is just not there" and said there was not enough evidence to her satisfaction that fetuses feel pain at that stage of development.
Acknowledging that she and Kinzer are on opposite ends of the abortion debate, Loganbill said she had done her due diligence looking at the bill but expressed concern that legislators would be hasty in passing it.
Virginia Phillips, a spokeswoman for Trust Women, a St. Louis group, plans to testify today that the bill would "remove the ability of women and families to make critical decisions about pregnancy in consultation with the physician."
"This is political interference in a woman's most personal, private medical decisions," her written testimony said.
Insurance riders bill
State representatives on the insurance committee heard testimony Wednesday about two bills involving insurance and abortion. One — House bill 2292 — would require women to buy an insurance rider if they want an insurance policy to cover abortions. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said a majority of Kansans find abortion "morally repugnant" and don't want their insurance premium dollars used for others to have abortions. His bill would require women to purchase a separate rider, which opponents of the bill say would be burdensome as women don't plan for unexpected pregnancies or fetal anomalies.
Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, asked DeGraaf for a study that says most people find abortion morally repugnant.
DeGraaf several times stressed that his bill would not outlaw insurance coverage of abortions but "just ask people to buy a rider."
Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, asked, "What other things are we going to find morally repugnant?" He asked if the Legislature would eventually find itself telling insurance companies not to cover drugs for sexual performance, such as Viagra, or contraception.
"This issue is life or death," DeGraaf answered. "That's a little different than buying Viagra or funding a woman's contraception."
Burroughs then said there are many Kansans who found the killing of George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who provided abortions until he was shot at church, morally repugnant.
Jeanne Gawdun, a spokeswoman for Kansans for Life, said that group supports the bill because "abortion is not health care."