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2nd abortion regulation bill vetoed by Kansas governor

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' governor vetoed legislation Wednesday that would require clinics to tell patients that a medication abortion can be stopped using an unproven drug regimen.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's action pushed back state GOP efforts to restrict abortion despite a decisive statewide vote affirming abortion rights in August 2022. It was the second time within a week that she vetoed an anti-abortion bill approved by the Legislature, which has Republican supermajorities and conservative leaders.

“Kansans made clear that they believe personal healthcare decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Topeka,” Kelly said in a short statement announcing Wednesday's action.

Last week, she rejected a measure that could subject doctors to criminal charges and lawsuits if they are accused of not providing enough care for infants delivered alive during certain abortion procedures, even if they are expected to die within seconds outside the womb because of a severe medical issue.

Kelly also vetoed an abortion medication “reversal” measure in 2019. The governor said Wednesday that this year's bill would interfere in decisions made by women and their doctors and could harm people's health, “given the uncertain science behind it.”

Kansans for Life, the state's most influential anti-abortion group, called last week's veto of the bill dealing with medical care for infants born during abortion procedures “heartless.” After Kelly's veto of the abortion medication measure, spokesperson Danielle Underwood said the governor sided with the “extremist abortion industry.”

Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said: “With this veto, Governor Kelly has shown that she does not believe vulnerable women have the right to know all of their options.”

The vetoes mean that abortion access and providers in Kansas remain for now far less restricted compared to other states with GOP-controlled legislatures that have banned or severely restricted abortion procedures over the past year.

GOP lawmakers are expected to try to override both vetoes after they reconvene next week to finish their business for the year.

Abortion opponents had the two-thirds majorities that will be necessary to override the veto of the bill on medical treatment for infants delivered alive during abortion procedures.

Republican lawmakers also may be able to override the bill vetoed Wednesday, though the vote is likely to be close in the House.

If they do, patients asking for a medical abortion would get a state-mandated, written notice that they can interrupt their abortion, even though the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says there is no scientific evidence that the “reversal” approach promoted by abortion opponents is safe or effective.

Abortion rights supporters contend both measures break faith with voters. Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes said Wednesday that those voters had "rejected giving politicians power over their personal, private decisions.”

“This bill attempts to undermine Kansans’ right to bodily autonomy by willfully forcing blatant misinformation into a healthcare environment," said Sykes, who is from the Kansas City area, where the abortion-rights vote was especially strong. “This is an attempt to sway a woman away from making the decision that the people of Kansas resoundingly said she has a right to make on her own.”

Even if Kansas lawmakers override Kelly’s vetoes, providers could ask state courts to block the new laws. Lawsuits have prevented Kansas from enforcing a 2015 ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure and a 2011 law from imposing extra health and safety rules on abortion providers.

At least a dozen states enacted abortion “reversal” bans before the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 2022 allowing states to prohibit abortion, though legal challenges put four states' laws on hold.

But in Kansas, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that access to abortion is a matter of bodily autonomy and a “fundamental” right under the state constitution. The vote last year rejected stripping out that protection.

Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups contend the vote last year doesn’t preclude “reasonable” abortion restrictions or rules for providers like the “reversal” bill.

A majority of U.S. patients terminating their pregnancies do so with abortion medications. Since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year, abortion opponents have sought to undercut access to the pills. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the legal status of mifepristone, the first of two medications in the most common and most effective method.

The abortion “reversal” approach promoted by Kansas lawmakers involves giving women doses of the hormone progesterone after mifepristone is taken but before the second medication, misoprostol, is taken. Doctors use progesterone to try to prevent miscarriages.

Experts question the findings of the two anti-abortion doctors who began using the off-label “reversal” approach more than 15 years ago and see a 2018 study vouching for its effectiveness as seriously flawed. Republican lawmakers in Kansas have brushed aside the criticism.

“Medical knowledge is passed within our profession very much like political knowledge is passed here, peer to peer,” Republican state Rep. Bill Clifford, a southwestern Kansas eye doctor, told his colleagues during one recent debate. “It isn't always about studies, and you have to trust your colleagues.”

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