Override of abortion veto fails in Senate

TOPEKA — The Senate narrowly missed overturning the governor's veto of a bill strengthening reporting requirements for late-term abortions.

The 26-14 vote Wednesday fell one shy of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto.

"Now that this issue is resolved, I hope legislators will turn their attention to crafting a responsible budget," said Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, in a written statement.

Jeanne Gawdun, lobbyist for Kansans for Life, said the vote was a "tragedy for women and opens the door for the return of late-term abortions in Kansas."

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

But anti-abortion groups have worried that Leroy Carhart, an Omaha-area physician, will open a clinic in Kansas because a new law in his home state of Nebraska toughens restrictions on abortions after the 19th week of pregnancy. Carhart, who was friends with Tiller, performed abortions at Tiller's clinic and has expressed interest in coming to Kansas.

Many lawmakers said the vote was difficult for them.

"This issue modifies everything that we do, it has become the most divisive issue in America," said Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, a doctor. "It is certainly a divisive issue for this body and across the hall."

Others noted that Kansas could have a governor who opposes abortion next year, if Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback is elected.

"We will have a change in governor. We will get this passed. It is just a year away," predicted state Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell.

Brownback, who said Wednesday he would have signed the bill, probably will face off against state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, in the gubernatorial race. Holland voted against the override. Parkinson has said he does not plan to seek re-election.

Senate substitute House Bill 2115 would have required doctors to submit to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment the exact medical diagnosis that justified a late-term abortion.

It also would have required the Kansas Board of Healing Arts to revoke the license of any doctor found in violation of the late-term abortion laws. And it would have allowed a woman, her husband or parents if she was a minor to sue a doctor if they thought a late-term abortion was performed illegally.

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 exact diagnosis on reports submitted to the state.

In introducing the bill, Sen. Jeff Colyer, R-Overland Park, a doctor, said the reporting requirements were no different than what doctors already have to submit to insurance companies. He called the bill a compromise that took into account veto messages on similar bills over the past few years.

"It allows us to have some compassion, compassion for the women, compassion for the unborn," he said.

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, lauded the vote in a written statement and said, "Our Senators have sent a clear message that women's health matters. It's time for the legislature to focus on preventing unintended pregnancy and increasing access to preventive health services."

Opponents said they had never had a chance to debate or amend the bill, since it usually came up as an conference committee report or a proposal that they simply had an up or down vote on.

Previous attempts had come to the Senate late in the session, said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, who voted against the override.

"I want to see proper regulations for reporting and compassion for women... I also believe we can pass a better bill if we can get all parties to the table to discuss the bill," she said.

Schodorf said she planned to send letters to all parties involved in the debate to set up meetings to hash out a true compromise bill.

Gawdun panned Schodorf's offer, calling it a publicity stunt. She said Kansans for Life would work to educate people on how their elected officials voted.

On Monday, the House mustered enough votes to overturn the veto on a second attempt. But Senate approval also was needed for the override to take effect.