TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) — A Kansas proposal based on the claim that providers leave infants to die after they're born during certain types of abortions is nearing legislative approval, as Republicans pursue limited anti-abortion measures following a decisive state-wide vote last year protecting abortion rights.
The Kansas House voted 88-34 on Wednesday to approve a bill declaring that when there's a live birth during an abortion procedure, medical personnel must take the same steps to preserve the newborn’s life as “a reasonably diligent and conscientious” provider would with other live births. The law would apply to any “complete expulsion or extraction” of a foetus from the mother, including labour and delivery abortions during which a doctor induces labour. The measure is similar to a proposed Montana law that voters there rejected in November and laws in 18 states, including Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Texas.
The US Supreme Court declared in June that states can ban abortion, and the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature has long had strong anti-abortion majorities in both chambers. But a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision protected abortion rights and in August 2022, voters rejected a proposed change to the state constitution to overturn that decision and give lawmakers the power to greatly restrict or ban abortion.
Supporters of the “born-alive infants protection” bill argued during a House debate Tuesday that the measure would survive a court challenge because it doesn't limit abortion itself. But a few Republicans touched on their moral opposition to abortion as a reason for backing the bill.
“If you truly want to hold effective conversations about the indiscriminate and brutal acts of violence in our society today, we must teach others to hold life as precious and sacred," state Rep Rebecca Schmoe, a Republican from northeastern Kansas, said during a debate Tuesday before voting for the bill Wednesday.
Abortion providers and abortion rights advocates contend measures like the ones in Kansas and Montana are designed only to give abortion care a false and negative public image. They also argue that current state laws against homicide and child neglect, as well as laws on doctors’ duties, are sufficient to address any real problems.
House passage sent the measure to the Senate, where GOP leaders have also signalled that they see it as a priority.
“I pray for the day where we would stop killing our own children and ask God for forgiveness and mercy,” said southeastern Kansas Rep Trevor Jacobs, explaining his “yes” vote along with six other GOP conservatives.
Supporters of the bill portrayed it as saving infants born during botched abortions. But it would apply to cases in which doctors induce labour to deliver a foetus that won't survive outside the womb, often because of a severe medical issue, with the expectation that the newborn will die within minutes or even seconds.
Like the laws in the 18 other states, the Kansas measure would require the hospitalisation of infants born during labour and delivery abortions and impose criminal penalties for doctors who don’t try to save them. In Kansas, failing to attempt to save such a newborn would be a felony, punishable by a year's probation for a first-time offender.
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