The Republican-controlled Kansas House of Representatives this week passed legislation making it easier for doctors, nurses and pharmacists to deny abortion and sterilization coverage, including refusing to refer patients to a doctor who would treat them.
The bill, which could come up for a vote in the Senate just by one senator demanding it, extends the state's religious conscience law to allow medical professionals to not provide a referral. Services covered by the bill include abortion and sterilization.
"To give carte blanche because of their conscience not to refer to a doctor or pharmacist is unfair and dangerous," state Rep. Annie Kuetcher (D-Topeka) told HuffPost.
The bill also extends the law to any medical facility and would exempt doctors and pharmacists from civil liability if they declined to refer a patient to another provider. Under the terms of the bill, medical providers would not need to disclose publicly if they refuse to perform such services.
"This is a large rural state and in a lot of the towns you have only one doctor or pharmacist," state Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-Topeka) said. "This would require you to drive several counties a way. One doctor can have a massive effect."
Gatewood noted that the bill covers male sterilizations as well, which could make finding a doctor to perform a vasectomy more challenging. State Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), a rare Republican opponent of the bill, said that some believe birth control pills are a form of abortion, which could lead to the pill possibly being prohibited by some pharmacists.
Opponents said unlike a similar bill passed this week in Missouri, emergency procedures are exempted. Under the Missouri bill, doctors would not be allowed to refuse to perform an emergency procedure. The Kansas bill does not have that provision.
"No, you can bleed to death, it is okay," Kuether said. "It is an ugly piece of legislation. I call it the war on women's health care. We are celebrating a 100 years of women voting in Kansas. I assume there are a lot of men in this chamber who would not want us here.
The bill's passage comes as legislators consider a sweeping 69-page anti-abortion bill, which includes provisions to allow doctors to deny information to women that could cause them to decide to have abortions and exempt the doctor from related medical malpractice suits. A wrongful death suit could be filed in the event the mother dies. The bill also includes the potential of placing a sales tax on abortion and could end tax credits for abortion-related services and insurance.
State Rep. Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe), the sponsor of both abortion bills, did not return a call left at his Topeka office. A Kinzer staffer previously told HuffPost that her boss rarely speaks to the press.
Under Kansas legislative rules, the refusal bill could come up for a Senate vote if just one senator demands it, bypassing committee hearings. The rule kicks in due to the parliamentary procedure House Republicans used to pass the bill. House opponents noted that moderate Senate Republicans have been trying to block abortion bills and this procedure would force a vote on a moment's notice.
Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has not indicated if he'll sign the bill, but opponents expect him to. Brownback told HuffPost in February that he's sticking to his 2010 campaign pledge to sign any pro-life bill that reaches his desk.
"He'll sign it with glee," Kuether said of Brownback. "There are people who say they want this to be the most pro-life state in the country."
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