Politics & Government

Sonogram in Senate committee room draws mixed reaction

Cindy Pederson, with Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, performs a sonogram in the Kansas Statehouse during a meeting of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.
Cindy Pederson, with Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, performs a sonogram in the Kansas Statehouse during a meeting of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday. The Wichita Eagle

The expectant mother lay down, and the sonographer applied the jelly to her stomach. The sonographer readied the machine and offered encouraging words.

Then Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook exclaimed, in empathy, “That jelly is cold.”

The sonogram took place in the Kansas Statehouse during a meeting of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday, the same day that Kansans for Life rallied against abortion outside the Capitol on the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, the committee’s chairwoman, watched the demonstration and said she hoped it would educate committee members about the science of what happens in the womb.

“Isn’t technology fantastic?” she said after the hearing.

“Because the health committee is very concerned about the health of unborn children and mothers, I thought it would be a great way to give committee members a science education on life within the womb,” Pilcher-Cook said.

But Elise Higgins, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, called the sonogram a political stunt.

“A committee room is not an appropriate place for a medical procedure to happen, and it’s also not a place for medical procedures to be legislated,” Higgins said.

The procedure was performed on two women by Cindy Patterson, a sonographer with Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, a crisis pregnancy center that offers free sonograms and counseling to women, specifically those weighing whether to have an abortion.

Amanda Kennedy, a 20-year-old student at Washburn University who had the ultrasound performed in front of legislators, said she never considered abortion an option.

“It is a little bit of a political statement,” said Kennedy, an anti-abortion activist who is married and 12 weeks’ pregnant.

“But it was important because it’s something that I believe in. This was a cool opportunity to represent life and represent something that was much bigger than me.”

Kennedy called herself an “incubator” for her child.

Donna Kelsey, the executive director of Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, said it is not her organization’s goal to persuade women to carry pregnancies to term.

“We don’t want to persuade, because it’s their decision. So we educate them,” Kelsey said. “It’s like buying a house or a car – you research, get information. Why not get information on that life that you’re carrying?”

Higgins questioned whether Wyandotte and similar crisis pregnancy centers are reliable sources of information for pregnant women, pointing out that the center is not licensed to give treatment beyond the ultrasound.

“I think that’s really telling. I think women deserve accurate, unbiased information,” Higgins said.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, who supports abortion rights, was caught off-guard by the medical procedure when he walked into the meeting. He found the demonstration interesting but was unsure of its legislative purpose.

“I can say now I actually saw a live sonogram in a committee hearing. What probative value it has for the deliberative process, I’m uncertain of,” he said.

Protesting abortion

Earlier, Gov. Sam Brownback addressed a crowd of several hundred anti-abortion activists from the Capitol’s steps. He had linked the anti-abortion movement with the state’s pre-Civil War abolitionist movement last week during his State of the State address.

On Wednesday, he restated his anti-abortion stance with confidence.

“This is a pro-life state. We’re not going back,” he said.

Brownback was joined by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, both Republicans.

Huelskamp, congressman for the 1st District, compared Roe v. Wade to the infamous Dred Scott decision, which in 1857 held that African-Americans, whether slaves or free, could not be considered American citizens.

“115 years later, that same U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision we all know of, declared that the unborn are mere property,” Huelskamp said. “But history is on our side.”

Before the event began, Higgins said such rhetoric was “incredibly extreme” and “out of step” with what the majority of Kansans believe. She quoted a Planned Parenthood statistic that 6 in 10 millennials nationwide think abortion should be legal in all cases.

Still, the rally included many teenagers.

Emma Gaffney, a 17-year-old who attends Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka, held a sign that read: “Jesus Forgives & Heals.”

“He’s (Jesus) coming to us through this, through all the people here, trying to inspire people to make the right decision, so he can heal them,” she said.

Supreme Court selection

Wednesday morning, Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for Kansans for Life, outlined the organization’s agenda for this session. Chief among its concerns is to change the way Supreme Court justices are selected in Kansas.

“It’s less democratic than it should be. The so-called merit selection is not serving us well,” she said. She supports an amendment passed in the Senate last session that would give the governor greater say in appointing Supreme Court justices.

The state’s current system relies on an independent commission that gives the governor three choices. Ostrowski contended that has resulted in a liberal court that’s out of step with Kansas voters.

“The opposition would like to break red states that have blue courts,” Ostrowski said.

Higgins said she opposes Kansans for Life’s efforts to change the judicial appointment system.

“They’re interested in politicizing the courts, in the same way they’re politicizing medicine,” she said.

Chief Justice Lawton Nuss had a chance to weigh in when he met with reporters after delivering the State of the Judiciary address, shortly after the anti-abortion demonstration, in the Supreme Court building across the street.

“I still prefer our present method, which does not allow for special interest groups to have any impact on the selection of people who eventually become judges,” he said.

Nuss said the people of Kansas “win” with the current system, which results in the selection of the best candidates without influence from political agendas.

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