Republican governor Sam Brownback has signed a bill making Kansas the first state to ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure that women’s health advocates say is often the safest method of termination. The governor, an outspoken abortion opponent, signed the legislation in a ceremony at his residence, with anti-abortion advocates standing behind him.
Senate Bill 95, which was drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee, is (NRLC) set to take effect July 1. It would effectively outlaw the dilation and evacuation procedure that is used for most second-trimester abortions and about 9 percent of all abortions performed in Kansas. Abortions in the state are currently generally allowed up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy; this law could ban abortions eight week earlier than that.
The legislation, which redefines the dilation and evacuation procedure as “dismemberment abortion,” is part of a campaign by the NRLC and other anti-choice advocates to influence public opinion by using graphic, medically inaccurate language to describe the procedure. One of the bill’s supporters, GOP state Rep. Mike Kieger, even compared the method to the holocaust, making reference to the medical experiments performed by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
But women’s health experts say the law is dangerous and will prevent doctors from using their sound medical judgment to decide what is best for patients. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abortion using what is known as suction aspiration can be performed up to 14 weeks’ gestation, but after 14 weeks dilation and evacuation is the safest means of performing an abortion. The Kansas bill would effectively ban safe abortion as ea rly as 14 weeks post-fertilization. Dilation and evacuation is also used after miscarriage, but doctors in Kansas will no longer be able to perform the procedure under any circumstances.
“We’ve never seen this language before,” Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, told the Kansas City Star. “It’s not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”
Laura McQuade, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a statement that the law would place an undue burden on women because it would prevent them from having access to the safest kind of abortions. “This legislation could force physicians to provide substandard care to their patients,” McQuade said. The bill “puts women in harm’s way by denying doctors the ability to provide the safest care available for their patients.”
There is no exemption for rape or incest in the law. An amendment was proposed that would allow physicians to use the procedure prior to 24 weeks of gestation if the pregnant woman’s membrane ruptures. Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), who offered the amendment, pointed out that premature rupture of the membrane can expose pregnant women to serious infections.
“When the water breaks the clock starts ticking, because infection can set in,” Bollier said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “A doctor’s goal is always to do what is safest. In this very, very tragic circumstance, the safest thing may be to do this procedure.”
The amendment was defeated.
The reproductive rights organization Trust Women said it will challenge the law in court, the Associated Press reports, and a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said the group is consulting with lawyers about possible litigation.
Since 2011, the state of Kansas has spent more than $1.2 million defending various anti-choice legislation passed and is projected to spend an estimated $50,000 in 2015 and up to $200,000 in 2016 defending the new legislation, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.
SB 95 is the 14th anti-choice bill Brownback has signed since he took office in 2011 and there will likely be more to come — the governor even called for an end to abortion in the state while speaking at an anti-choice rally in January. Similar bills, also drafted by NRLC, are currently under consideration in Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Carolina, where Republicans dominate state legislatures.
Both sides of the abortion debate understand that the ban on the dilation and evacuation procedure is meant to be a trial balloon for the Supreme Court, which in 2007 upheld a federal ban on a late-term procedure described by its opponents as “partial birth abortion.” However, as RH Reality Check pointed out, the court said in that decision that it was not banning all methods of second-trimester abortions, including dilation and evacuation procedures.
The Kansas bill is part of a continued wave of legislation restricting abortion access. According to the Guttmacher Institute, GOP lawmakers have proposed at least 100 abortion restrictions in just the last three months, of which 53 have been approved by at least one legislative chamber and nine have been enacted.