Politics & Government

Brownback signs ‘conscience act’ letting pharmacists refuse to provide drugs they believe might cause abortion

Gov. Sam Brownback has signed into law a bill that will allow pharmacists to refuse to provide drugs they believe might cause an abortion.

Called the Heath Care Rights of Conscience Act, the new law will bar anyone from being required to prescribe or administer a drug they "reasonably believe" might result in the termination of a pregnancy. The law was signed Monday.

Critics say the law will open the door for a pharmacist to refuse a request for something like the "morning-after" pill, which the Mayo Clinic says can prevent or delay ovulation, block fertilization or keep a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

They argued that the law puts pharmacists and physicians in a position to refuse birth control and that it will affect many women, especially those in small towns and rural communities since the health provider wouldn’t be required to provide a referral somewhere else.

Abortion opponents said the bill is a narrow upgrade of a 1969 Kansas law that said no one should be required to perform or participate in abortion procedures.

State Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, was the bill’s sponsor. He said the law was intended to cover the abortion drug RU-486, not contraceptive medications. The morning-after pill is different from RU-486, which is used to chemically induce an abortion.

To be protected under the law, Kinzer said, a pharmacist would need "reasonable medical basis" to believe the drug would cause an abortion.

If someone were fired or sued for refusing to provide a drug, he said, he or she could then litigate whether there was a basis for believing the drug would cause an abortion.

He said the conscience protection would apply to any drug that would cause harm to an embryo after it is fertilized.

So-called conscience clauses have been around for more than 40 years following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 that legalized abortion.

Since 1970, Kansas has had a law that said no one should be required to perform or participate in an abortion procedure.

But in recent years across the country, the issue has moved to pharmaceuticals, particularly those given in an emergency to prevent a pregnancy.

Four states — Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota — have laws that allow pharmacists to refuse to fill an emergency prescription for contraceptives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Three others — Florida, Maine and Tennessee — have broad refusal measures that don’t specifically mention pharmacists.

This is the fifth bill restricting abortion that Brownback has signed since taking office.

Last year, the Republican governor signed bills requiring new licensing criteria for abortion clinics and requiring parental consent for juveniles to get an abortion.

Brownback also signed a bill banning insurance coverage of abortion and another one that tightened limits on late-term abortion.