TOPEKA — A bill to place new restrictions on abortions moved a step closer to passage Wednesday, despite complaints from opponents that some of the provisions could harm vulnerable women and girls.
At Wednesday's hearing before the Federal and State Affairs Committee, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe — the chief sponsor of House Bill 2035 — said about the only new idea it contains is a provision requiring that a minor obtain permission from both her parents before getting an abortion.
That's a substantially higher hurdle than current law, which requires a girl to notify one of her parents before an abortion, but doesn't grant parents veto power on the decision.
All of the bill's other provisions have passed both legislative chambers at least once and, in some cases, as many as three times in other bills.
In the past, Democratic governors have vetoed the provisions, and anti-abortion lawmakers have fallen just short of being able to get the two-thirds vote needed to override the veto.
This year, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has vowed to sign any pro-life bill that comes to his desk.
Although no votes were taken at Wednesday's hearing, HB 2035 is virtually assured to pass out of the committee to the full House.
Fifteen of the committee's 23 members are co-sponsors of the bill.
The main provisions:
* Require that both parents give their consent for a minor to have an abortion.
* Abolish the "mental health exception," which currently allows doctors to justify performing an abortion if carrying the pregnancy to term would damage the mother's mental health.
* Change the term "fetus" to "unborn child" in state law.
* Require doctors to report a detailed medical diagnosis to the state to justify a late-term abortion.
* Allow husbands of adult women and parents of minors to file a civil suit against a doctor if they believe an abortion was performed in violation of the law.
* Increase penalties for violating abortion law.
* Outline procedures and findings a judge must make to waive the parental-consent provision in individual cases.
* Require the chief judge of each court to file an annual report detailing the number of consent waivers requested, the number granted, the specific reason for granting each request and actions taken to protect the girl from abuse.
* Empower the Attorney General's Office to initiate abortion-related prosecutions in cases where the district or county attorney disagrees that charges should be filed.
Kinzer contended that the bill is necessary to close loopholes that allowed the late George Tiller to provide late-term abortions at his clinic in Wichita. Kinzer said the existing state law had made Kansas into a "destination spot for performance of abortion."
No late-term abortions have been performed in Kansas since Tiller was murdered in May 2009 by Scott Roeder.
Amber Versola, of the National Organization for Women, said the proposed changes would fall hardest on women and girls from "the deepest, darkest holes of poverty."
She said supporters are trying to use legislation to enforce their concept of morality and "placing more restrictions on this one medical procedure than we do for brain or heart surgery."
Versola, who has worked with teenage girls in homeless shelters, said hidden abuse in families could make it nearly impossible to expect girls to try to get both parents to agree on an abortion. In some cases, she said, having to reveal a pregnancy to the abusive parent could trigger further abuse, she argued.
Kinzer said he thinks that issue is solved by the court bypass process.
Versola said she thinks that relies on "a dangerous and unrealistic assumption of transparency."
A divorced father testified at the hearing that the current notification system is insufficient because he couldn't stop his daughter from having an abortion in 2009. The Eagle is withholding his name to protect his daughter's privacy.
The man testified that both he and his ex-wife oppose abortion to the extent that his ex-wife carried their daughter to term despite blood-toxicity problems that threatened the mother's life.
When their daughter became pregnant at 17, the man said, she brought him the notification form because she did not want to destroy her relationship with her mother, who had primary custody.
He said he refused to sign, but he believes she was able to obtain judicial consent for the abortion.
The man said his daughter wanted an abortion largely because she was a student-athlete and was afraid of losing a scholarship.
He also objected to provisions in the law that allow a minor to be represented in court by an adult of their choice.
"Why should anyone on the street who is 21 years old have more influence than the parents?" he said. "I feel like parents should have access to that (court) information in a confidential way."