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.
“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.
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson vowed in a statement that the Senate will move quickly to override Kelly’s veto.
Even if they succeed, 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.
Kansas For Life spokeswoman Danielle Underwood released a statement that said Kelly’s veto was “heartless” and she called on Kansas residents to urge lawmakers to override the governor’s decision.
“These babies deserve protection and the same medical care as any other newborn of the same gestational age. This once again proves how out of touch Gov. Kelly is with the values of the people of Kansas,” Underwood said.
Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes said there is no circumstance in Kansas in which an infant can be delivered alive during an abortion.
“It simply does not happen,” Sykes said in a statement. “The reality is that this legislation would harm mothers and health care teams who will be forced by statute to attempt care that will not change a tragic outcome, rather than provide families the dignity to grieve in peace.”
In Kansas, no abortions after the 21st week have been reported since at least 2016, and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 1% of the more than 600,000 abortions a year occur after the 21st week of pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says almost no fetuses are viable before the 23rd week of pregnancy
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. It is also similar to a proposed law that Montana voters rejected in November.
Under the bill, 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 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.
This story has been corrected to remove an erroneous reference to Kelly vetoing a similar bill in 2019.