Kansas bill would use fetal pain to outlaw late-term abortions

TOPEKA | Conservative lawmakers opened a new front in Kansas’ perennial battle over abortion Wednesday with legislation outlawing late-term abortions because of pain felt by fetuses.

Those on both sides of the abortion fight in Kansas say it represents a significant change in strategy, and perhaps the basis for an eventual challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. The measure is modeled after a law in Nebraska which has yet to be challenged in court.

The Kansas bill would ban all abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless a physician declares the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life. No exceptions would be made for a woman’s mental health.

At least five other state legislatures are considering similar bills this year.

It’s a departure from existing abortion law, which is typically based on gestational age and whether a fetus could survive outside the womb.

“We’re not looking at the baby’s age, we’re looking at the baby’s pain capability,” said Kathy Ostrowski of Kansans for Life. “We absolutely think it does bump up against Roe, but we also think it will do immediate good.”

Both sides point to conflicting medical research on when fetuses develop the ability to sense pain. In hearings before a House committee Wednesday, supporters of the bill presented physicians who said fetuses older than 20 weeks are acutely sensitive to the pain of an abortion.

Critics of the measure, H.B. 2218, address lawmakers on the House Federal and State Affairs Committee today.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Sarah Gillooly called the legislation “blatantly unconstitutional” and said supporters want to set up an expensive legal challenge to Roe. Gillooly said the bill would prohibit women from seeking an abortion if they discover late in pregnancy that their unborn child will have severe birth defects.

“We’re talking about women who are experiencing pregnancies that have gone tragically wrong,” she said. “This is just an attack on vulnerable women.”