The Republican-led Legislature failed Wednesday to override Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of a bill mandating Kansas physicians tell patients prescribed pills to induce an abortion that the process might be interrupted if a woman decided not to end the pregnancy.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, successfully led adoption of an override motion by the Senate as soon as the chamber gathered following a three-week break in the 2019 session. However, the override effort subsequently fell short in the House.
"I’m pleased the Legislature sustained my veto," Kelly said. "This is unnecessary legislation that would interfere with the relationship between women and their physicians. It forces health care providers to adhere to a government mandate not adequately supported by medical science."
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said he anticipated a move on the House floor Thursday to reconsider the override question.
Wagle, a pro-life legislator preparing for a run for U.S. Senate, said criticism of the bill was based on exaggeration and distortion.
"This bill simply gives a woman an option. It gives information," she said. "Nothing in this statement is biased."
Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Democrat and retired physician, said practicing physicians had a right to make decisions about patient care based on science. Demands placed on the medical profession by the bill aren't grounded in rigorous scientific research, she said.
"If we start directing what physicians say or are required to tell patients, particularly in an arena when there is no scientific backing for that said statement, we are going into very dangerous territory," Bollier said. "That is an egregious infringement on the practice of medicine by this body."
The Senate voted 27-13, the minimum required for a two-thirds override. The House followed by voting 82-43 on a motion to thwart the Democratic governor's veto. GOP leadership in the House applied robust pressure in an attempt to reach at least 84 votes, but couldn't reach that margin.
Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican and family physician, said the medical intervention contemplated by the bill was capable of preserving about 64 percent of pregnancies.
"It is a very, very pro-choice bill," he said. "All we're doing in this bill is making sure that women have informed consent of their rights."
Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, said politicians serving in the Legislature shouldn't place themselves in the business of practicing medicine. He said the bill was an example of the type of "government overreach" denounced by conservative legislators.
Under Senate Bill 67, physicians could be charged with a felony for not providing women information about how the two-step RU486 abortion procedure could be halted before administration of the second pill. Medical facilities not posting a sign with abortion "reversal" information described in the bill could be fined $10,000 per day.
A woman choosing to undergo an RU486 abortion would typically be prescribed mifepristone to cease growth of a fetus. That would be followed hours later by misoprostol to complete termination of the pregnancy. A person choosing to interrupt this abortion process would receive high doses of progesterone, which has been used to help women avoid miscarriages.
Kansans for Life, a lobbying organization, recommended legislators reject Kelly's veto. A majority of abortions performed in Kansas involve women taking a pill and complaints about the progesterone method are unfounded, said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life.
"It is ridiculous to paint the protocol as untested and medically unsound," Culp said.
Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Wichita, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hadn't endorsed the protocol outlined in the legislation.
"The ‘reversal protocol’ advanced by this bill and others like it is completely unverified and has not been the subject of any peer-reviewed medical studies," she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which endorsed Kelly's veto, called the bill unconstitutional.
"This law requires doctors to work against their own Hippocratic oath, and politicians should not be intruding on the doctor-patient relationship, inserting falsehoods in their crusade to violate women’s agency and reproductive freedoms," said Letitia Harmon, policy director at the Kansas ACLU.