TOPEKA, Kan. — Three pieces of legislation signed last month by Gov. Sam Brownback have affirmed the hard work of pro-lifers in Kansas.
Brownback signed S.B. 142, “Civil Rights for the Unborn,” into law April 10. It concerns “wrongful life” and “wrongful death” suits. The measure prevents “wrongful life suits,” which are filed under the claim that damages are owed parents because they were not given information that would have led them to abort their baby. When these cases arise, it is generally because the baby has some significant disability.
S.B. 142, on the other hand, allows civil causes of action for the wrongful death of an unborn child throughout the entire nine months of gestation, not just after viability. This type of legislation applies in situations such as when an unborn child dies as a result of a drunk-driving accident or a violent assault on the mother.
The second pro-life measure, signed April 19, aims in part to protect the religious liberty of Kansas taxpayers, among other goals.
“We want to protect religious liberty as much as possible in the state of Kansas, and this bill takes a big step in that direction by not forcing taxpayers in any way, shape or form to pay for abortions with their money,” Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, one of the sponsors of the legislation, told the Register.
Primarily, the measure does that by ensuring that taxpayer funds are not allocated for abortions, even indirectly. For example, it does not allow tax breaks for abortion providers or allow for abortion costs to be deducted from taxes as medical expenses.
“Every taxpayer can now know with certainty that none of their money is being used for abortions,” affirmed Pilcher-Cook, the state Senate Health Committee chairwoman. “The legislation prohibits the use of public funding from being used in any manner to facilitate abortions.”
The legislation, H.B. 2253, passed the Kansas House on April 5, with a vote of 90-30, and the Senate a few hours earlier, with a vote of 28-10. In addition to the tax restrictions for abortion providers, it also prohibits sex-selective abortions and establishes more clearly the health information that must be given to women prior to an abortion.
As well, the legislation is designed to keep abortion providers out of classrooms, so that “parents can be more confident their children are not exposed to abortion politics in sex-education classes,” Pilcher-Cook said.
A Statement of State Values
And the new law provides help for families with a prenatal or postnatal diagnosis of a child with a disability, including, for example, establishing a network of local registries of families willing to adopt newborns with Down syndrome.
The bill notably declares that the life of each human being begins at fertilization, “with all state laws to be interpreted and construed to protect the rights, privileges and immunities of the unborn child, subject only to the U.S. Constitution and the judicial decisions and interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court.” Similar terminology has already withstood a challenge before the Supreme Court in 1989.
“It is a statement of the state's philosophy of values,” noted the executive director of Kansans for Life, Mary Kay Culp. She clarified that the statement does not affect abortion policy in the short term, since “we cannot do what the Supreme Court doesn't allow us to do.” But it is “a foundation for policies that we have for situations other than abortion.”
H.B. 2253, described by the media as “sweeping pro-life legislation,” actually contains relatively few elements that will directly impact the abortion industry in the short term. It's thought that few sex-selective abortions occur in Kansas, for example, and large portions of the legislation expand on earlier laws already enacted.
Hard Work Rewarded
Still, the hard work of Kansans who reject the culture of death is being rewarded.
They are constantly reminded that their former governor, a Catholic, Kathleen Sebelius, is one of the driving forces behind President Barack Obama’s health-care package, which mandates coverage of abortion, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
As governor, she vetoed every reasonable pro-life legislation, recalled the legislative and research director for Kansans for Life, Kathy Ostrowski. But “pro-lifers are very persistent in Kansas,” she said, and they’ve been “plodding along, plodding along, plodding along.”
Now, they have a pro-life governor and a pro-life majority in both chambers of the state Congress.
The legislation signed by Brownback, a former U.S. senator and presidential candidate who converted to Catholicism during his years of political service in Washington, is a key part of the strategy for building a culture of life, said Ostrowski.
She explained that the terminology regarding the beginning of human life is “not a direct assault on Roe [v. Wade],” but, instead, a measure to affirm that, “despite the existence of Roe, [we] can still protect other children that are not headed for abortion.”
It's an incremental approach to establishing pro-life policy, Ostrowski noted, which draws in situations such as inheritance or civil lawsuits in order to have the unborn child “protected in the courtroom as much as possible.”
“In Kansas, we are attempting to do what the Supreme Court said we could do in 1989,” Ostrowski said, “which is protect the unborn child and the interests of his parents in the courtroom, despite the existence of Roe.”
Eventually, she said, there will be a body of positive law that will expose the “untenable schizophrenia” of abortion policy under Roe v. Wade. And these are the types of laws that are “reasonably acceptable to those fringe people who don‘t really pay attention to the issue, so that they can say, ‘Well, that's not as bad as the Planned Parenthood website said it was. That's pretty reasonable,’” Ostrowski added.
The legislative push is supported by grassroots pro-lifers. Kansas has some 80 of the nation's 2,000 pregnancy-crisis centers — a large number for the sparsely populated state — so there is a “plethora of assistance for women who need support during their pregnancy,” Ostrowski said. Gains at the level of government, therefore, reflect “hands and hearts engaged.”
Leading the World
The third piece of legislation signed by the governor is not directly about abortion at all, though many media presentations of it have couched the measure in the context of the abortion debate.
It is pro-life legislation in the sense that it seeks to save lives without destroying others because it promotes a morally acceptable alternative to life-destroying embryonic research through the establishment of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.
Brownback signed the legislation April 22, flanked by people who credit their health to the treatments they've received with adult stem cells.
Pilcher-Cook sponsored the legislation because she said that patient therapy applications for the “numerous successes” with adult stem-cell research are “few and far behind.”
“This will be the only center like this in the world, because of the combination and coordination of the various aspects,” Pilcher-Cook said. “With an emphasis on getting therapies to patients quickly and making patients first, research will be used effectively. Combine that with the educating and training of physicians on adult stem-cell applications, along with educating the public on therapies available, including a global database, the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center will be a new model for a translational network.”
Those who oppose the measure cited the state’s already strained budget, and they questioned why a research center should be established by the government. State Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, said the state Legislature becoming “involved in telling the medical center what to do” was a “very bad precedent to set.”
Bollier, herself a physician, also told the Register that her own investigation of the issue had found there was a greater promise for therapies utilizing embryonic stem cells than with those utilizing adult stem cells.
Pro-life research experts counter that morally acceptable research has proven to be vastly more promising.
Dr. David Prentice, senior fellow for Life Sciences at the Family Research Council and a former professor of medical and molecular genetics at Indiana University, notes that some 60,000 people a year are already receiving adult stem-cell transplants for “dozens of conditions.”
Added Prentice, “In contrast, embryonic stem cells have no documented success with patients and little to recommend them, even from over 30 years of animal studies; their usual result is tumor formation.”
Still, Prentice acknowledged, “most people, including most physicians, still don’t realize the tremendous success of adult stem cells and the abysmal failure of embryonic stem cells.”
Supporters of the new Kansas center hope it can deliver even more adult stem-cell successes.
“Kansas will be the leader in this, which is fabulous in this burgeoning field,” Brownback said after signing the measure. “This is really exciting — and to see this happening here.”
Register correspondent Kathleen Naab writes from Houston,
where she covers news of the Church as a coordinator for Zenit News Service.