Veto of abortion bill may not stand

TOPEKA — The Kansas House mustered enough votes Monday to override the governor's veto of a bill that requires an exact medical diagnosis for a late-term abortion.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it would have to receive a two-thirds majority before the override becomes official. The initial bill passed the Senate 24-15, three votes shy of 27 that will be needed to overturn Gov. Mark Parkinson's veto.

It was the House's second attempt in two days to override the veto. Friday, the chamber narrowly missed the needed two-thirds majority — 84 votes. It reconsidered Monday and the override passed, 86-35.

Jeanne Gawdun, lobbyist for Kansans for Life, said her group was very pleased with Monday's vote and was working hard to find additional yes votes in the Senate.

Parkinson issued a statement, saying there were more important issues before legislators than abortion politics.

"It is disappointing that the House has chosen to spend its time on a politically divisive issue that is exhausted annually instead of focusing on this year's challenging state budget, which they have yet to discuss," he said.

The measure, Senate substitute for House Bill 2115, would require doctors performing an abortion after the 21st week of pregnancy to give a detailed medical diagnosis for why the procedure was justified on forms that are sent to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

It also would allow a woman, her husband or parents if she were minor to sue a doctor if they thought the late-term abortion was performed illegally.

Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka, said the bill did nothing to prevent late-term abortions and set a "very dangerous precedent" by opening the door for lawsuits.

In 2008, 3 percent of the abortions in Kansas were performed at 22 weeks or later in the pregnancy, Kuether said. In 2009, that rate dropped to 1.3 percent.

No doctor in Kansas is known to be performing late-term abortions since the murder last year of physician George Tiller in Wichita.

Still, that doesn't mean the law shouldn't be changed, said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who has championed late-term abortion reform for the past several years.

"It would not surprise me in the slightest if people who may be interested in coming in and resume that type of practice are waiting to see if the Legislature will take action," he said.

Requiring doctors to give the specific medical diagnosis that justifies a late-term abortion is a crucial change, he said. "It makes sure there is a level of accountability present that we've never had before," he said.

State law bans abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy unless a doctor certifies that continuing the pregnancy would cause serious harm to the woman. But doctors don't give the diagnosis on reports submitted to the state.

Anti-abortion groups have long said abortion clinics use bogus diagnoses to justify late-term abortion.

Kansas is among several states seeking tighter abortion regulations.

On Monday, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson agreed to a court order requested by abortion providers to delay enforcement of a new state law, which requires women to get an ultrasound and hear a detailed description of the fetus. It was one of two bills vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry but overridden by the Oklahoma Legislature and allowed to become law.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed two bills into law in April, also aimed at late-term procedures. One bars abortions at and after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on assertions that fetuses feel pain at that time. The current standard is viability.

That bill is partially meant to shut down one of the few late-term abortion providers in the country, physician LeRoy Carhart, who practices in an Omaha suburb. Carhart was a friend of Tiller and has expressed interest in reopening Tiller's practice, leading to the Kansas legislation.

Heineman also signed a bill requiring doctors or other health professionals to assess whether women have risk factors that could lead to mental or physical problems after an abortion.

Parkinson vetoed the Kansas law on April 15, saying that while all abortions were tragic, it is a matter that should be decided by women, their families, medical providers and pastors, not legislators. A similar bill was vetoed in 2009 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Kinzer said the success of the bill this year was due to efforts to address the concerns raised by Sebelius' veto, including language regarding jurisdiction of prosecutors to file charges against providers.