The Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan.— Frustrated that Dr. George Tiller isn’t being prosecuted over allegations of performing illegal late-term abortions, a key legislator said Monday that he will pursue legislation to impose new restrictions.
Rep. Arlen Siegfreid said he wants to ban all abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy, except to save the life of the mother. Current law restricts late-term abortions, but hundreds still occur every year in Kansas, many when the fetus can survive outside the womb.
Siegfreid, R-Olathe, is chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which handles abortion legislation. His concept has the backing of other abortion opponents, including House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls.
Anti-abortion lawmakers also are hoping that legislative leaders appoint a committee to study late-term abortions. Some remain critical of Attorney General Paul Morrison, an abortion rights Democrat, over how Morrison has handled an investigation into Tiller, of Wichita, who is among the few U.S. doctors who perform late-term abortions.
As about 150 abortion opponents watched, Siegfreid and five other legislators participated in a news conference designed to pressure Morrison into filing criminal charges against Tiller. Morrison plans to announce a decision by Friday.
“I do believe we have a problem with enforcing the late-term abortion law,” Siegfreid said during the news conference. “My personal preference is — and I’m researching the constitutionality of — just banning all abortions after the 21st week in the state of Kansas.”
Responding to the news conference, Morrison spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said, “The attorney general will not be influenced by political stunts. He is influenced only by the law and the evidence in the case.”
Siegfreid said he intends to have his bill on late-term abortions ready when the Legislature convenes Jan. 14.
State law permits abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy. However, if the fetus is viable, two doctors must conclude that a mother’s life is at risk or that she faces “substantial and irreversible” harm to a “major bodily function” for the procedure to be done. Officials have assumed a major bodily function includes mental health, in keeping with past court decisions on abortion.
Former Attorney General Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican who lost to Morrison in November, alleged that Tiller failed to comply with the law by citing mental health conditions in patients that weren’t substantial and irreversible to justify late-term abortions.
In December, Kline filed 30 misdemeanor criminal charges against Tiller in Sedgwick County District Court, only to see a judge dismiss them for jurisdictional reasons. Tiller’s attorneys have said the charges were without merit.
“The less exceptions that are in the law, the more luck we’re going to have enforcing it,” Siegfreid said. “We have to remove as many of those exceptions as we possibly can.”
Julie Burkhart, a lobbyist for ProKanDo, an abortion rights group founded by Tiller, said Siegfeid’s idea would be bad policy. For example, she said, it could force a woman who learns that her fetus has died in the 24th week to carry it to term anyway.
She said such decisions should be left to patients and their doctors. She said abortion opponents often suggest women have abortions late in their pregnancies for frivolous reasons, which she said isn’t true.
“This is where we need to put our trust in physicians to make good, qualified health care decisions with their patients,” she said. “I have yet to meet a woman who’s had a late termination of pregnancy who took that decision lightly.”
Even some abortion opponents question whether such a restriction could become law because Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, is a strong abortion rights supporter.
“That would be something that we’d be passing with the understanding that there would be a veto,” said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who called the news conference.
Some abortion opponents also question whether Morrison would vigorously enforce new restrictions against Tiller, in view of ProKanDo’s activities against Kline. The PAC spent more than $650,000 in 2005 and 2006, some on polls and phone banks and some helping to finance anti-Kline mailings.
- State News
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