Capitol Update: Rep. Kessinger details thought process on abortion reversal notification bill

Jay Senter - May 6, 2019 3:54 pm
Rep. Jan Kessinger.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Cindy Holscher, Rep. Jan Kessinger and Sen. Jim Denning are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Kessinger’s filing:

As the legislative session for 2019 was in its last days, SB67, a bill requiring notification to patients that the effects of a medication abortion may be reversible was vetoed by the governor and we faced a vote to override her veto.

I originally voted for the bill as it seemed reasonable and certainly left choice up to the woman. During our April break, I heard from several people asking about my vote on the bill. I was informed of conflicting information and I set out to further research the implications of the bill. I spoke with proponents as well as critics of the procedure, physicians, and researched articles and reports.

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The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the concept of abortion pill reversal. The most helpful article for me was in the New England Journal of Medicine, Legislating Without Evidence. It cites reviews that question the efficacy of the procedure specified in SB67. This raised even more concerns on my part that the Kansas legislature was playing doctor in areas it did not fully understand.

Politicians are making medical recommendations that are best left to medical professionals. If there is information or advice doctors must provide patients, that should come from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, not the Kansas legislature.

My vote to sustain the veto came not because it was a critical Republican vote, not because it was pro- or anti-abortion, but because it is not the role of the legislature to insert itself into medical practice, especially when it comes to medical research. This is micro-managing an area where we are not the best-qualified, have limited information and most importantly, have tied a highly emotional issue to a political issue where it becomes a litmus test for the Kansans for Life.

When there were not enough votes to override the governor’s veto by one single vote – mine – the rolls for the vote were left open for people to change their vote. House leadership, fellow reps – both friend and foe – called or visited me. I took every call, I talked with every person who came to my desk. I did not run from those who tried to persuade me to change and I did not hide behind those who supported my vote.

I was told that “they” (I assume Kansans For Life) would raise $200,000 to defeat me in the 2020 election. I was told (accompanied by a sweeping motion over the Republican side of the House) that “every Republican without a primary will walk against you in your district next election”. I was told this was not a threat, just the facts.

For two hours, the pressure to switch my vote was intense. Many called it bullying. Finally, the vote was closed as no Democrat, nor I, switched to override the veto.

I went to my office and took calls and answered emails. I met with the lobbyist for Kansans for Life for about an hour. I did not have to meet with her, but I wanted to hear from their side. My door is always open for all sides.

In the conversation, I challenged the need for urgency of this legislation. This bill was widely publicized as THE KFL VOTE of the session. For years, the KFL has pushed at least one bill through the legislature each session. This was the 2019 bill.

Why could they not wait until a definitive and credible study be done? Why now? I didn’t get an answer to that from the lobbyist. I then asked, “Isn’t this just a way to separate the sheep and goats so KFL can see who is with them or against them?” She admitted as much. It was a vote to see who to campaign against. It was not in the interest of the women affected, it was in the interest of a special interest group.

But, it is more than sheep and goats.

The head of the Kansas Republican party and I spoke twice on the phone as he encouraged me to switch my vote. He also sent an email. In the email, he said “I feel it is my duty to weigh in when one single representative controls a vote on an issue that is a Republican Platform issue.”

Was he saying part of the platform is to require doctors to dispense medical advice/information that may not be accurate?

The fact is this veto override vote was important to send a political message of contempt from a Republican legislature to a Democrat governor. Kansas is better than that. My vote was not Democrat and it was not Republican. It was a Kansan, voting what is best for the women of Kansas, not special interests, not partisan politics, not forcing doctors to offer unproven medical recommendations.

In the end, the veto was sustained and I became ground zero for KFL attacks as well as a target for defeat by alt-right Republicans. Maybe they will raise $200,000 to defeat me. I doubt if every Republican without a primary will walk against me because at least 25 of them thanked me for my vote and the courage to stand my ground.

I must admit I was not totally steadfast. The morning before the vote to reconsider the veto override, I did offer to change my vote in exchange for a Senate vote on Medicaid expansion. That was not accepted, so I did not change my vote. At the end of that day, I recalled one of my favorite quotes and one I stood fast by during the veto votes:

With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost. ~William Lloyd Garrison

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