TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill on Friday that could have penalized doctors accused of not providing enough care to infants delivered alive during certain kinds of abortion procedures.
In a statement on her website, Kelly, a Democrat, called the legislation “misleading and unnecessary.”
The legislation could have subjected doctors to lawsuits and criminal charges in certain kinds of abortions and in circumstances when doctors induce labor to deliver a fetus that is expected to die within minutes or even seconds outside the womb. Kelly vetoed a similar bill in 2019.
“Federal law already protects newborns, and the procedure being described in this bill does not exist in Kansas in the era of modern medicine,” Kelly said Friday. “The intent of this bill is to interfere in medical decisions that should remain between doctors and their patients.”
Kansas’ Republican-controlled Legislature gave final passage to the bill earlier this month, and in both chambers, the bill passed with a veto-proof majority. Still, the bill’s fate has been uncertain in a legal and political climate that’s made Kansas an outlier on abortion policy among states with GOP-led legislatures.
Even if abortion opponents succeed in overriding any veto, the measure could still be challenged in court and not enforced. Lawsuits have prevented Kansas from enforcing a 2015 ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure and a 2011 law imposing extra health and safety rules for abortion providers.
Kansas abortion opponents haven’t pushed to ban abortion outright despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 that the U.S. Constitution allows it. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state constitution, and in August 2022, voters decisively rejected a proposed change to strip away protections for abortion rights.
This bill applies not only to “botched” or “unsuccessful” abortions but also when doctors induce labor to deliver a fetus that is expected to die within minutes or even seconds outside the womb, which often occurs because of a severe medical issue. The measure was similar to a proposed law that Montana voters rejected in November.
The Kansas measure is similar to laws in several other states requiring infants delivered alive during labor and delivery abortions to go to a hospital and imposing criminal penalties for doctors who don’t provide the same care “a reasonably diligent and conscientious” provider would with other live births.
In Kansas, failing to provide reasonable care for such a newborn would be a felony, punishable by a year’s probation for a first-time offender. Also, the newborn’s parents and the parents or guardians of minors seeking abortions could sue providers.
Critics of the bill have said the state would be intervening in difficult medical and ethical decisions between doctors and parents. They also said parents could be forced to accept futile and expensive care.
Supporters have said the measure was necessary, and they considered it a humanitarian issue.