Los Angeles Times

Kansas AG tries to allay fears about abortion measure


TOPEKA, Kan. — The attorney general of Kansas is trying to get ahead of arguments that an antiaborti­on measure up for a statewide vote next week would hinder medical care for patients with life-threatenin­g pregnancie­s.

Atty. Gen. Derek Schmidt, a Republican running for governor who supports the measure, argues in a legal opinion issued Friday that treating miscarriag­es, removing dead fetuses and ending ectopic pregnancie­s do not fall under Kansas’ legal definition of abortion. The proposal on the ballot Aug. 2 would amend the Kansas Constituti­on to allow the Legislatur­e to further restrict or ban abortion. It’s the first referendum on abortion policy by a state since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last month.

The Texas Medical Assn. this month told its state’s medical board that some hospitals were delaying care for pregnancy complicati­ons over fears of violating the ban on most abortions. An Ohio clinic reported calls from two women who said their doctors would not end their ectopic pregnancie­s, which occur when an embryo grows outside the womb and often are lifethreat­ening to the women.

Opponents of the Kansas measure predict that it will lead to an abortion ban; backers, including Schmidt, are not saying whether they would pursue one.

Schmidt’s opinion says the proposed amendment would not itself “ban or restrict abortion or any medical treatment.”

“Nor would it affect a physician’s ability to render care for ectopic pregnancie­s, miscarriag­es or fetal demise,” the opinion states.

Television ads opposing the measure have not specifical­ly mentioned ectopic pregnancie­s, stillbirth­s or miscarriag­es but have said that women’s lives could be in danger if voters approve it.

The proposal is antiaborti­on lawmakers’ response to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring access to abortion a “fundamenta­l” right under the state constituti­on.

“What these abortion bans are doing that we’ve seen across the country is bringing with them a whole host of other unintended consequenc­es,” said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, spokespers­on for the abortionri­ghts group Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Wichita, Kan.

State Rep. John Eplee, a doctor and northeaste­rn Kansas Republican, asked Schmidt to issue an opinion earlier this month. Although Eplee already believed that the amendment wouldn’t hinder medical care, he said, he had received enough questions from constituen­ts that he wanted Schmidt to weigh in.

“You know, people believe things better when they hear it from an attorney,” said Eplee, who voted to put the proposed amendment on the ballot.

Schmidt’s opinion says the state’s legal definition of abortion already excludes treating miscarriag­es and removing dead fetuses. But it acknowledg­es that Kansas law contains no reference to ectopic pregnancie­s.

Schmidt’s opinion notes that an abortion is the terminatio­n of a pregnancy, and that’s defined as having an “unborn child in the mother’s body.”

The opinion says at least two laws define an unborn child as being in the womb, not outside it. The opinion also argues that the embryo in an ectopic pregnancy is no longer in a stage “leading to birth.”

“On balance, we believe the best interpreta­tion is that the terminatio­n of an ectopic pregnancy does not constitute an abortion as defined by Kansas law,” Schmidt wrote, adding that even if it were, state law has consistent­ly allowed abortions to save a patient’s life.

Additional­ly, the state health department said it does not require providers to report the terminatio­n of an ectopic pregnancy as an abortion and does not include such procedures in state abortion statistics.

But opponents of the Kansas amendment find no comfort in Schmidt’s legal analysis, saying the measure would allow lawmakers to change the definition of abortion.

Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician in Rooks County in northwest Kansas, said Monday that if abortion is banned, doctors might wonder how long they’d have to wait for a woman to be “in jeopardy for her life” before ending an ectopic pregnancy.

“We know that the reason for the amendment is to allow the Legislatur­e to make decisions to restrict reproducti­ve access,” she said in a text to the Associated Press.

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