Kansas could redefine ‘abortion’ in state law. What would that mean?

Signs from Kansans for Life are held by young anti-abortion activists in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln during January's March for Life event at the Kansas Statehouse.  Kansans for Life and other anti-abortion groups are pushing to redefine abortion under state law.

Signs from Kansans for Life are held by young anti-abortion activists in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln during January’s March for Life event at the Kansas Statehouse. Kansans for Life and other anti-abortion groups are pushing to redefine abortion under state law.

A proposed new legal definition of “abortion” in Kansas pushed by anti-abortion groups would clarify that treatment for ectopic pregnancies and birth control are not abortions.

Senate Bill 297 makes the definition of uniform abortion throughout the state statute. It largely depends on existing definitions, which already includes an exception for miscarriages and protection for birth control, while adding new exceptions for removal of an ectopic pregnancy and “the prescription, dispensing, administration, sale or use of any method of contraception.”

“We have seen across the country in the last couple of years, really the last couple of months, abortion statutes being misinterpreted by doctors and by abortion advocates,” said Brittany Jones, a lobbyist with Kansas Family Voice. “Some of this is probably unintentional, but we think it’s very important in order to protect women and ensure they get the medical care that they desperately need in tragic situations, to ensure that they get that care, to clarify our definition of abortion and clearly lay out what abortion is not.”

The bill had a rushed hearing Monday in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee where Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora and the committee chair, cut short the testimony and didn’t allow senators to ask questions. No medical experts tested, nor did anyone who opposed the bill.

The committee passed the bill on a voice vote on Tuesday without any further discussion.

more:Shrugging off August 2022 abortion vote, Kansas Senate passes two anti-abortion bills

The push to redefine abortion comes after Value Them Both failed

The bill’s supporters include Kansans for Life, Kansas Family Voice and the Kansas Catholic Conference — the three primary groups behind the Value Them Both Coalition.

Voters in August overwhelmingly rejected the proposed Value Them Both amendment, which would have removed the state constitutional protections for abortion while giving lawmakers the authority to regulate it, potentially including a ban.

The definition of abortion was a point of contention in the lead up to the election. Eleven days before Election Day, with advance voting already underway, then-Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued an advisory opinion that medical treatment for ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages or fetal demise are not abortions under state law.

more:Kansas abortion definition doesn’t include ectopic pregnancy termination, AG Derek Schmidt opines

Schmidt’s opinion acknowledged that state law does not specifically address how an ectopic pregnancy is defined. Some definitions in state statute would appear to indicate that treatment for an ectopic pregnancy mirrors an abortion.

Under Kansas law, “life begins at fertilization” and is immediately considered an “unborn child.” Pregnancy is defined as “having an unborn child in the mother’s body” with pregnancy beginning at fertilization — not specifically with embryo implantation in the uterus, as federal law and medical officials typically define it. Abortion is defined as the termination of a pregnancy, with some exceptions.

“Unfortunately, the abortion industry has intentionally been spreading fear in women by equating treatment for miscarriages and life-threatening ectopic pregnancies with abortion,” said Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist with Kansans for Life. “While the current definition of abortion does not consider those situations to be abortions, SB 297 provides further clarification by explicitly excluding treatment of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage management.”

Ectopic pregnancies are when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus. They most commonly occur in the fallopian tubes, which is always fatal for the fetus and, if not treated, can be fatal for the mother.

more:Unclear abortion laws in some states prompt ER doctors to call lawyers as pregnant people suffer

more:Some worry that the Missouri abortion trigger law’s language could have deadly consequences

Some physicians in other states who have banned abortion, such as Missouri, have feared that treating an ectopic pregnancy before the mother’s health was in immediate danger could put doctors at legal risk.

Last session, Rep. Trevor Jacobs, R-Fort Scott, introduced an abortion ban bill that defined the treatment of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages as abortions. The bill, which died without a hearing, made miscarriage treatment an acceptable form of abortion, while ectopic pregnancy treatment was allowed only once the mother’s life was “seriously” threatened and the embryo could not be saved.

Bill would add to birth control protections

Under existing state law, the use of birth control drugs or devices is already legal, regardless of whether they inhibit ovulation, fertilization or implantation.

Birth control is also protected by US Supreme Court precedent, though Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, called for the high court to take another look at legal protections for contraception.

The protection for birth control was not present in model legislation circulated last summer by the National Right to Life Committee, of which Kansans for Life is an affiliate. The NRLC model law did protect ectopic pregnancy treatment.

The Kansas bill would further protect contraceptives by clarifying that they are not abortions, which is a point of contention among some anti-abortion groups and lawmakers nationally.

Some Republicans in other states have targeted certain forms of birth control, particularly emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B, and intrauterine devices. Some anti-abortion activists liken morning after pills and IUDs to abortion because of the potential to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining.

In Idaho, an attorney for the University of Idaho warned employees not to provide emergency contraception or standard birth control, or else they risk misdemeanor or felony charges and losing their jobs.

more:Idaho college says staff could face felony for ‘promoting’ abortion, providing birth control

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which contributed to the Value Them Both efforts, has argued that IUDs and morning after pills can facilitate an “early abortion.” The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which includes the dioceses and bishops from Kansas, has likewise argued that emergency contraception drugs “really act as early abortifacients.”

But the Kansas Catholic Conference, which represents the four Catholic bishops of Kansas, supports the bill. Lucrecia Nold, a lobbyist for the conference, said it provides clarity and ensures the definition of abortion is consistent in the law.

“It confirms all Kansans have the same understanding of the definition, which is important in the legislative process and when exercising their right to vote,” Nold said. “This clarification is also beneficial to those creating and enforcing the Kansas law.”

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: New Kansas abortion bill excludes ectopic pregnancy, birth control

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