Culture war clash gives Kansas new medication abortion law

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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during an event at the Kansas Statehouse, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Topeka, Kansas. The Democratic governor vetoed a bill that would allow providers to be prosecuted criminally over allegations about their care of newborns delivered during certain abortion procedures but the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode her action. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas clinics will be required to tell patients that medication abortions can be stopped using a drug regimen that the providers consider ineffective and potentially dangerous after a key legislative vote Thursday in the nation's ongoing partisan culture war.

The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 29-11 along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of the medication abortion “reversal” measure. The GOP-controlled House overrode the veto Wednesday on an 84-40 vote and the new law takes effect July 1.

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Kelly vetoed more than a dozen bills restricting abortion providers, rolling back transgender rights or enacting other conservative policies that have been pursued by Republicans across the U.S. While top GOP lawmakers prevailed on a majority of the Kansas measures, Kelly had some key victories.

Republicans moved ahead on anti-abortion measures despite a decisive statewide vote in August 2022 affirming abortion rights. Democrats accused abortion opponents of breaking faith with voters, but Republicans argued that the vote didn't preclude “reasonable” restrictions on providers.

Republicans overrode Kelly's veto of $2 million in state funds for centers run by abortion opponents that provide counseling and other free services to discourage people from getting abortions, as well as a measure that could have providers facing criminal charges over allegations about their care for newborns delivered during abortion procedures.

They also overrode four of Kelly's vetoes of anti-transgender legislation, as well as a measure designed to combat the smuggling of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. They rejected the governor's argument that the latter bill was written so broadly that a “good Samaritan” might face a prison sentence for taking gas money after driving an immigrant to work.

“It shows you that the governor is not currently in the middle of the road,” Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said after lawmakers finished a spate of votes overriding vetoes. “She’s off on the left edge somewhere. We’re trying to find her.”

Kelly narrowly won reelection last year after her campaign broadcast ads showing her in the middle of a rural Topeka-area road as a metaphor for her politics. She said Thursday that her vetoes were "a check on legislation that is too extreme one way or the other.”

“I’m disappointed some legislators are eager to force through extremist legislation that will hurt our economy and tarnish our reputation as the Free State," Kelly said in a statement, alluding to how Kansas became a state with an anti-slavery constitution just before the American Civil War started.

The new requirement on medication abortions will become part of a longstanding state law spelling out what information clinics must give patients 24 hours in advance of an abortion — in print. Supporters said it makes sure women know of an option if they have doubts about terminating their pregnancies.

A San Diego doctor developed the “reversal” regimen more than a decade ago and anti-abortion groups have promoted it since. It involves large doses of the hormone progesterone within 24 hours of a patient taking the first of two abortion medication doses. Doctors have used progesterone to stave off miscarriages.

Jeanne Gawdun, lobbyist for Kansans for Life, the state's most politically influential anti-abortion group, praised lawmakers for demonstrating “the courage to stand against the Governor’s extremist views.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says there is no scientific evidence that the regimen works, and critics say studies touting the regimen are deeply flawed. They've also repeatedly noted that a California university stopped a small study of the regimen in 2019 when several participants' health was endangered.

Kansas providers also say patients almost never reconsider after taking the first dose of abortion medication. Dr. Selina Sandoval said she hasn't seen a single case in 10 months as a provider for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates three Kansas clinics.

“People don’t drive 19 hours from Texas if they don’t know what they want,” Sandoval said, noting that appointments in Kansas are in demand because of other states' abortion bans. “They really want to paint the picture that patients that come for abortions are uncertain when they are not.”

Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers but GOP leaders couldn't consistently get all Republicans to vote to override Kelly's vetoes, and some efforts failed.

Those efforts included votes on measures to allow parents to:

—Pull their public school students out of lessons or activities that offend their beliefs.

—Prevent state universities from using diversity, equity and inclusion principles in hiring decisions.

—Bar the board licensing mental health professionals from requiring them to undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training.

—Require public schools offering gun safety courses to base them on a National Rifle Association program.


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