Kansas legislators approved a ban Friday on insurance companies offering abortion coverage as part of their general health plans except when a woman's life is at risk, capping a string of for abortion rights opponents in the four months since sympathetic Gov. Sam Brownback took office.
Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican, is expected to sign the bill sent to him by the state House a mere 15 minutes before lawmakers adjourned their annual session. The House's early-morning vote was 86-30 in support of a larger bill that included the abortion coverage restrictions. The state Senate had approved it Thursday night, 28-10.
If the bill becomes law as expected, starting in July, individuals and employers who want abortion coverage would have to buy supplemental policies that cover only abortion. Supporters of the bill argue that it will protect employers who oppose abortion rights from having to pay for policies that cover the procedures.
The legislation also says that no state or federally administered health-insurance exchange in Kansas established under last year's federal health care overhaul law can offer coverage for abortions, other than to save a woman's life.
"This bill includes very crucial pro-life language," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican. "I would view this as an important conscience protection for Kansas business owners."
After taking office, Brownback called on the GOP-dominated Legislature to create a "culture of life." He's already signed legislation to tighten restrictions on late-term abortions and require doctors to obtain written permission from parents before terminating minors' pregnancies.
Legislators also have sent him a bill to impose new health and safety standards specifically for abortion clinics, which Brownback is expected to sign. And the state budget approved by lawmakers contains a provision diverting $300,000 in federal family planning dollars away from Planned Parenthood to public hospitals and health departments.
Those measures are part of a wave of anti-abortion legislation across the nation, as abortion opponents have been encouraged by the election of new Republican governors last year and conservative legislators. Several states have considered insurance coverage restrictions similar to Kansas' legislation.
Democratic Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, who held the office before Brownback, blocked most major changes in Kansas abortion laws, vetoing legislation that is becoming law this year.
"There's clearly a message here that women are dispensable," said state Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat and one of the Legislature's shrinking number of abortion rights supporters. "I'm sick and tired of being treated like a second-class citizen."
But Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said the state's new laws will protect women who seek abortions from dangerous clinics and provide more accurate reporting by doctors about their activities. The tighter restrictions on late-term procedures are based on a notion disputed by abortion rights supporters and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that a fetus can feel pain by the 22nd week of pregnancy.
"It has obviously been a good session," Ostrowski said after lawmakers adjourned. "We have established a beachhead of protection for the developing unborn child."
Supporters of the restrictions on health insurance coverage for abortions noted that Missouri has long had such restrictions. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, which operates in 30 Missouri counties and Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, carries its Missouri practices into Kansas. The company has said consumers rarely ask for abortion-only policies.
"The fundamental issue here is not _ although I wish it were _ the ability to further limit legal access to abortion, but rather who pays," Kinzer said.
Abortion rights supporters are skeptical, believing the bill's backers want to cut off a way for women to cover the cost of terminating pregnancies.
And Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who supports abortion rights, questioned whether women would buy abortion-only policies long before they have crisis or unwanted pregnancies or are rape victims.
During the House's debate, Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who supports the bill, told her: "We do need to plan ahead, don't we, in life?"
Bollier asked him, "And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with a pregnancy?"
DeGraaf drew groans of protest from some House members when he responded, "I have spare tire on my car."
"I also have life insurance," he added. "I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for."
The insurance legislation, including the abortion restrictions, is in HB 2075. The original version of the abortion measure is HB 2292.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Kansans for Life: http://www.kfl.org
Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/kansas-mid-missouri/
Deeply Disturbing: Clinton, Democrats Seek To Undue Religious Freedom For America's Business Owners | Austin Hill