TOPEKA — Veterans of bruising political battles on Kansas abortion law met again Tuesday to wrangle over a bill requiring physicians to present biographical information to patients on white paper and printed in black ink in 12-point Times New Roman font.
Bill advocates Kansans for Life and the Family Policy Alliance lined up against bill opponents Planned Parenthood and the Trust Women Foundation to consider mandating additional disclosure of material about abortion doctors under the Woman’s Right to Know Act. The state law governs what must be given to a woman seeking an abortion at least 24 hours in advance of the procedure.
Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director of Kansans for Life, said women considering an abortion should be told in writing the year the doctor graduated from medical school, the date employment started at the clinic, state of residency, status of malpractice insurance, hospital privileges and interaction with state medical regulators.
“None of this is unreasonable,” Ostrowski said. “The clinics simply make a one-time data entry and only have to infrequently update it.”
Elise Higgins, regional policy director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, registered opposition to House Bill 2319 because it was “designed to undermine confidence in highly qualified physicians, attempts to codify an unconstitutional law and does nothing to improve the lives of Kansas women and families.”
She said information about malpractice insurance was unnecessary because all physicians were required by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts to maintain that coverage.
She said the bill also would direct abortion clinic doctors to disclose whether that person had privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where the abortion was to be performed. In Kansas, the hospital privilege requirement passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Sam Brownback has been blocked by litigation since 2011.
“The inclusion of this language in the 24-hour informed consent form would be deceptive. It would give the impression that a Kansas clinical privileges law is indeed in effect, which it is not,” Higgins said.
During the House Federal and State Affairs Committee hearing on the bill, legislators posed questions designed to shake positions of policy rivals offering testimony.
“I’m looking at the Trust Women Foundation website,” said Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita. “There’s no information about the physician. I’m looking at your Kansas 24-hour informed consent form. It has the name of the three doctors, but if I was going to have a procedure, I would not know which physician would perform that procedure until I showed up that morning.
“I wouldn’t know if I was going to have an invasive procedure performed on me by a 70-year-old who had driven in a long distance until I showed up. For me, this comes down to transparency. What are you all trying to hide?” Whitmer said.
Bob Eye, an attorney for Trust Women Foundation and South Wind Women’s Center, said bills pending in the House and Senate included directives for information sharing that had little or nothing to do with an abortion patient’s health. He pointed to a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made clear restrictions creating substantial obstacles to abortion without a corresponding health benefit for women were unconstitutional.
“There’s nothing being hidden,” Eye said. “All legal requirements that are specified are met. I would defy anybody to look at our disclosure forms and say otherwise.”
Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, asked an advocate of the bill why medical right-to-know legislation was specifically directed at abortion physicians but not midwives, who also served interests of pregnant women in Kansas.
“It looks punitive, and it looks like it’s harassing a particular set of providers,” Rooker said.
Steve Brunk, a former Wichita member of the House who lobbies for the Family Policy Alliance, said special statute ought to be applied to certain medical professionals because abortion was an “unnatural procedure.” He said restrictions of other health care workers ought to be placed in a different bill.