Kansas' Republican state Legislature certainly is crafty. During Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' long, still unresolved fight to be confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary, she's been forced to deal with several abortion-related bills back home. You know, because in the midst of an economic crisis, the most crucial agenda item is constraining women's reproductive health choices!
In any case, Sebelius -- whose confirmation hearings have centered around abortion politics -- buckled last month, signing into law a bill requiring doctors to ask patients, 30 minutes before scheduled abortions, if they would like to see an ultrasound image of the fetus or hear its heartbeat. Yesterday, however, Sebelius found her spine, vetoing legislation that would have required doctors performing late-term abortions to submit, in writing, exactly what medical risks "justified" the procedure. Abortion is illegal in Kansas after the 22nd week of pregnancy, barring serious health threats to the pregnant woman. The bill also, classically, infantalized women and girls, allowing their husbands or parents to sue abortion providers if they suspected the pregnant woman's health wasn't really at risk.
Of course, what the veto reveals is the horror underlying seemingly innocent late-term abortion bans and limitations, like the Kansas law already in place. They intimidate doctors at a time when the nation is experiencing a severe shortage of abortion providers. They pressure women into carrying non-viable pregnancies to term; after all, if your own health isn't at risk, why wouldn't you want to give birth to a child destined to die within days or weeks of birth? And they trivialize women's emotional and mental health needs, implying that only a life-threatening physical ailment justifies the choice to end a pregnancy.
It took real political guts for Sebelius to veto this bill, and she is paying the price. Previously, her nomination had attracted the strong support of her home state Republican senator, Sam Brownback, a staunch anti-choicer who regularly likens abortion to slavery. But now Brownback is back-pedaling. Sebelius' veto "makes it harder and harder" for him to support her, Brownback said, adding that he would "keep thinking on through it over the weekend." Given that Sebelius is the last Cabinet appointee yet to be confirmed -- and that the delay is preventing President Obama from filling crucial positions at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- here's hoping Brownback doesn't overthink the thing.