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Abortion bill advances in Kansas Legislature

TOPEKA | Anti-abortion legislators were close Friday to winning final passage of a bill they believe will strengthen enforcement of Kansas' restrictions on late-term abortions.

The House approved it, 82-43, and supporters also expected the Senate to consider the measure Friday. Senate approval would send it to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The bill would require doctors performing late-term abortions to give detailed medical reasons for them in reports to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Also, if a woman or girl comes to believe her late-term abortion was illegal, she, her husband or parents could sue the doctor for damages.

The measure arises from disputes involving George Tiller, whose Wichita clinic is one of the few in the U.S. that performs late-term abortions.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has said doctors need only say that a patient faced death or "substantial and irreversible" harm, while anti-abortion groups believe Tiller and other providers should be spelling out their medical diagnoses.

They believe Tiller does not have legally sufficient reason for some procedures, and the bill is an effort to force state officials to look into that issue.

"Apparently, some of our law enforcement folks need some clarification," said Sen. Tim Huelskamp, an anti-abortion Fowler Republican.

But critics say the bill represents new and unnecessary restrictions on providers.

"It's aimed not at prohibiting or eliminating access, but at making access more difficult to obtain," said Rep. Judy Loganbill, a Wichita Democrat.

The House passed a similar bill last month, but it hasn’t been considered by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. With the latest bill, anti-abortion House members can get an up-or-down vote in the Senate, bypassing the committee.

Legislators passed a bill last year to allow former abortion patients and others to sue doctors if they came to believe a late-term abortion was illegal. It also allowed them to seek a court injunction beforehand to block one.

But Sebelius, who supports abortion rights, vetoed last year’s measure, saying the provision allowing a court to intervene before an abortion was an unconstitutional restriction on access. That provision isn’t in this year’s bill, and Sebelius’ spokeswoman has said the governor would review the measure carefully before making a decision.

Last week, Sebelius signed a bill requiring doctors who use ultrasound or monitor fetal heartbeats to make the images or sound available to patients at least 30 minutes before a procedure.

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