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Kansas House committee considers abortion coercion bill, funding for anti-abortion services


Kansas House committee considers abortion coercion bill, funding for anti-abortion services

Mar 12, 2024 | 1:48 pm ET
By Sherman Smith
Kansas House committee considers abortion coercion bill, funding for anti-abortion services
Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, seen during a March 9, 2023, hearing, says a doctor tried to coerce her into scheduling an abortion against her will. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Rep. Rebecca Schmoe says a doctor once tried to talk her into seeking an abortion over concerns that she and her baby would die if she tried to give birth.

Schmoe, an Ottawa Republican, introduced House Bill 2813 to create the felony crime of “coercion” for persuading someone to terminate a pregnancy against their will. She testified in support of the legislation Tuesday before a House committee.

She said the doctor in her case spent more than an hour trying to persuade her to have an abortion.

“I was called selfish at least 10 times, and then I stopped counting,” Schmoe said. “I was told that my parents were going to have to pick out my casket. I was told that my parents were going to have to make all the arrangements. He asked me at one point what kind of flowers I wanted at my funeral.”

“Not only was he wrong about me dying,” she added, “he was wrong about my baby dying. That child is now 21 years old. And he is absolutely amazing. I wouldn’t trade a moment of time with him.”

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee heard testimony on Schmoe’s bill, as well as House Bill 2809, which is designed to funnel $5.8 million into efforts to pressure women not to terminate a pregnancy.

Advocates of criminalizing coercion said women can be forced into choosing an abortion by an overbearing parent, a scared boyfriend, their trafficker, or, as Schmoe recounted, a doctor.

Anytime someone uses threat of violence, or threat of harming your financial situation, threat of anything that has to do with how you function as a human being, and how you go about living your life, that is wrong,” Schmoe said.

The only opponent to the bill, the Kansas Birth Justice Society, argued that the bill was too narrow in scope and should be broadened to address coercion related to contraception.


‘Almost certain squandering’

Prominent anti-abortion groups — Kansans for Life, Kansas Family Voice and the Kansas Catholic Conference — squared off with reproductive-rights groups over the merits of directing more money toward crisis pregnancy centers to deter abortions.

HB 2809 is the latest in a series of bills that would provide similar funding mechanism exclusively tailored toward organizations that promote childbirth. The organizations would be paid to provide “medically accurate pregnancy-related information” and adoption marketing materials, as well as services that include counseling and developing parental skills.

Those services would be discontinued to women who choose to have an abortion, or who have a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Rep. Will Carpenter, an El Dorado Republican who chairs the committee, tried to tamp down heated debate by declaring “this bill is not about abortion.”

Taylor Morton, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill was written so that only crisis pregnancy centers would be eligible for state funding. Those organizations, she said, are widely considered to be unethical by health care professionals, including the American college of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association.

The centers “employ a myriad of misleading and harmful tactics to dissuade pregnant people from seeking abortion care,” Morton said.

For example, she said, the centers misrepresent abortion safety and assert false risks of abortion. They also intentionally overestimate the stage of an individual’s pregnancy to falsely suggest they are too far along to access abortion.

Some centers falsely represent themselves as a legitimate, regulated health care clinic, even though staff and volunteers have no medical qualifications, Morton said.

Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesman for Trust Women Foundation, said the organization is “deeply concerned with the bill’s unnecessary and almost certain squandering of resources that could otherwise support existing state programs that directly benefit struggling families.”

He said the proposal is “at least the third bill introduced in the Legislature this year that creates a channel for state taxpayer funds to be diverted into anti-abortion organizations, including crisis pregnancy centers and anti-abortion marketing firms.”

Gingrich-Gaylord proposed lawmakers instead expand Medicaid, support birthing centers, remove barriers to contraceptives, expand access to doulas and midwives, and advocate for equitable maternal health care.