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Voters backed abortion rights. Yet Kansas could make doctors ask patients why they want abortions

Mar 6, 2024, 9:10 PM | Updated: Mar 8, 2024, 3:16 pm

Kansas House Health and Human Services Committee Chair Brenda Landwehr, left, R-Wichita, consults w...

Kansas House Health and Human Services Committee Chair Brenda Landwehr, left, R-Wichita, consults with Majority Whip Susan Estes, right, also R-Wichita, during the House's session, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Landwehr and other anti-abortion lawmakers are pursuing a bill to require providers to ask their patients why they are having abortions and to report their answers to the state. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas moved closer Thursday to requiring abortion providers to ask patients why they want to terminate their pregnancies and report the answers to the state. It would join other states with Republican legislatures that ban most abortions even though Kansas voters have affirmed abortion rights.

The House approved, in an 81-39 vote, a bill that would require providers to ask patients 11 questions about their reasons for terminating a pregnancy, including that they can’t afford another child, raising a child would hinder their education or careers, or a spouse or partner wanted her to have an abortion. The bill goes next to the state Senate, where it also is likely to pass.

At least eight states require similar reporting, but none have had a statewide vote on abortion rights as Kansas did in August 2022. In the first state ballot question on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, voters decisively protected abortion rights under the state constitution.

Democrats are frustrated because Republicans and anti-abortion groups have pursued new rules for abortion providers and aid to anti-abortion counseling centers despite that vote and votes affirming abortion rights in other states, including GOP-led Kentucky and Ohio.

“Quite honestly, I don’t understand it, you know, because I think Kansans made it very, very clear how they want Kansas to operate in this arena,” Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, a strong abortion rights supporter, said during a brief Associated Press interview this week. “Why would an elected official who’s facing an election in November go against the wishes of their constituents?”

Both chambers have large anti-abortion majorities and both sides believe there’s a strong chance abortion opponents could override a Kelly veto of the reporting bill. Last year, Republicans overrode Kelly’s vetoes of other restrictions on providers.

But Republicans are sensitive enough to criticism that their proposals go against the wishes of Kansas voters to argue that their proposals since the August 2022 ballot question have not reduced access to abortion. Kansas allows most abortion up until the 22nd week of pregnancy, and that would not change under the reporting bill.

“This bill has nothing to do with eliminating abortion in Kansas, doesn’t ban it, doesn’t touch on that whatsoever,” said House health Committee Chair Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican. “I’ve respected that vote.”

Backers of the bill argued the state needs more and better data about why women and girls have abortions so lawmakers can create programs to address their concerns.

“If we’re looking to protect unborn children and it’s a socio-economic reason, then maybe a state can step up,” said Ingrid Duran, state legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

In Kansas, a doctor who provides an abortion already must report the patient’s age and ethnicity, whether the person was married and the method used to terminate a pregnancy.

States requiring doctors to report the reasons for an abortion include Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah. Minnesota’s Democratic-controlled Legislature repealed its similar reporting requirement last year.

The law in Oklahoma, where most abortions are banned, includes a list of more than 30 questions a provider must ask a patient about her motives. Potential reasons include relationship problems and not feeling mature enough to raise a child.

Isabel Guarnieri, a spokesperson for the Guttmacher Institute, which researches abortion issues and supports abortion rights, said such data can be useful in public health. But she said such mandates also should be assessed in the context of lawmakers’ long history of trying to restrict access and stigmatize abortion.

Alesha Doan, a University of Kansas dean and professor who studies policy and gender, called the bill approved by the House “an unnecessary way for the state to continue to surveil people’s health decisions.”

Democrats, particularly female lawmakers, attacked what they saw as the unfairness of requiring women to face detailed questions about their motives for seeking health care when men would not. They started with vasectomies.

Then, Kansas City-area Democratic Rep. Stephanie Sawyer Clayton suggested requiring doctors to ask male patients whether they wanted to treat erectile dysfunction because a spouse wanted that or because it caused the man stress or embarrassment.

“Because I am still fertile right now, I don’t have that right to privacy,” she said after Thursday’s vote, summarizing what she sees as the bill’s real message. “Why am I less of a person than a post-menopausal woman? Why am I less of a person than a man?”

But that tactic prompted an eye-roll from Landwehr during a post-vote interview. She said Democrats should favor better data collection.

“You know, it amazes me that they don’t support this,” she said.

___

Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski contributed to this report.

___ This story was first published on March 7, 2024. It was updated on March 8, 2024, to make clear that at least eight states have reporting rules similar to what is being proposed in Kansas for those seeking abortions.

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Voters backed abortion rights. Yet Kansas could make doctors ask patients why they want abortions