Bill giving pharmacists leeway on abortion drugs passes in Kansas

A bill that would allow pharmacists to bow out of providing drugs they believe might cause an abortion cleared the state legislature Wednesday.

The Senate voted 23-16 to approve the bill, which is primarily intended to broaden legal protections for health-care providers who don’t want to be involved in abortion procedures.

Already passed by the House in March, the bill now awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a staunch opponent of abortion.

Opponents of the bill in the Senate worried about its broad language prohibiting anyone from being required to prescribe or administer a drug they “reasonably believe” might result in the termination of a pregnancy.

They contended the bill could unintentionally lead to pharmacists or physicians refusing to provide life-saving drugs that might have the side effect of ending a pregnancy.

“This bill carries with it opportunities for unintended consequences where a person with medical skills and training could be in a situation to deny help resulting in the death of a mother,” said Sen. Tim Owens, a Republican from Overland Park. “I do not accept that as a pro-life choice.”

Others, such as Planned Parenthood, believe the bill is about restricting birth control. They think it will clear a path for pharmacists to refuse a request for something like the “morning-after” pill, which the Mayo Clinic says can prevent or delay ovulation, block fertilization or keep a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

They have said that this type of law could especially affect Kansas women in small towns and rural communities because the health provider wouldn’t be required to provide a referral somewhere else.

Abortion opponents said the bill is a narrow upgrade of a 1969 Kansas law that said no one should be required to perform or participate in abortion procedures.

“Chemically, the line is increasingly blurring between abortion drugs like RU-486 and chemically similar contraceptive drugs,” said Kathy Ostrowski, the lobbyist for Kansans for Life.

“The health care professional has a right to make the decision about far they want to be involved in the termination of life.”

So-called conscience laws, like the one passed Wednesday, have been around for more than 40 years following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion.

But in recent years across the country, the issue has moved to pharmaceuticals, particularly those given in an emergency to prevent a pregnancy. The morning-after pill is not the same as RU-486, which is used to chemically induce an abortion.

Four states — Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota — have laws that allow pharmacists to refuse to fill an emergency prescription for contraceptives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Three others — Florida, Maine and Tennessee — have broad refusal measures that don’t specifically mention pharmacists, the group says.

Republican state Rep. Lance Kinzer of Olathe, the bill’s sponsor, has said it was intended to be a “modest” upgrade of the Kansas law to keep up with evolving technology.

“This bill does nothing more than to make sure that as technology advances the protections medical professionals have enjoyed in Kansas are not weakened,” Kinzer said.

Certainly, the right to an abortion does not include within it the right to require someone else to participate in or facilitate your abortion,” he said.

Kinzer has said the bill is intended to cover the abortion drug RU-486, not contraceptive medications — although he would be OK if conscience protections extended that far

To be protected under the law from being fired, a pharmacist would need “reasonable medical basis” to believe the drug would cause an abortion, Kinzer has said.

Kinzer said Wednesday night that someone would need scientific evidence to demonstrate that they had reasonable belief that a drug could terminate a pregnancy.

Late Wednesday, abortion rights supporters criticized the Senate for its vote.

“Tonight is a sad night for the women and families of the state of Kansas,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and director of Trust Women, an abortion-rights group based in Wichita.

To read more, visit