A bill advancing in Kansas would mandate reporting for miscarriages at any stage in pregnancy, the first step along the path to criminalizing pregnant women’s bodies. Under an amendment attached to HB 2613 — which was originally intended to update the state’s procedure for issuing birth certificates for stillborn babies — doctors would be required to report all of their patients’ miscarriages to the state health department.
HB 2613 initially sought to provide an alternative to the state’s current stillbirth certificate, which some parents believe over-emphasizes their child’s death in an emotionally painful way. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R), one of the most ardent abortion opponents in Kansas, added the miscarriage reporting requirement last week. Now, the bill’s original author is withdrawing his support from his own legislation.
“I can’t support the bill as it was amended,” Kansas Rep. John Doll (R) told ThinkProgress. “I think it waters it down and makes it into a political statement. I wanted a bill to help give closure to some families — I didn’t want it to have anything to do with pro-life or pro-choice issues.”
But Pilcher-Cook frequently wades into these issues. The lawmaker has also attempted to outlaw surrogacy, weaken the state’s sex ed requirements, levy a sales tax on abortion procedures, and prevent the state’s abortion restrictions from including exceptions for rape and incest. She once pushed for a mandatory ultrasound bill on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by performing live sonograms on the Senate floor. It’s perhaps unsurprising that she’s turning her attention to a first-of-its-kind state law to regulate women’s miscarriages.
Although a 2009 bill in Virginia proposed mandatory miscarriage reporting, no state has actually enacted this requirement into law. “We never see these bills. They don’t really come up,” Elizabeth Nash, the states issue manager for the Guttmacher Institute, told ThinkProgress. “This is really taking this idea of reporting fetal death a step further in a really strange way.”
Typically, “fetal death” is defined as a loss of pregnancy that occurs after 20 weeks of gestation due to an unforeseen health issue. Meanwhile, miscarriage is commonly defined as an earlier pregnancy loss — sometimes occurring so early that women hadn’t yet realized they were pregnant. The CDC already outlines separate reporting requirements for abortions, fetal deaths, and infant mortality. HB 2613 would complicate that process by trying to combine different types of reporting into one bill, and potentially defining miscarriage and fetal death in new ways.
“We don’t see these bills at a state level because they upend a system that’s already in place,” Nash noted. “Since this law would be the first of its kind, this sort of requirement would really need a lot of support and education — it’s an added layer of bureaucracy and reporting.”
HB 2613 has the potential to impact a lot of the female patients in Kansas, since miscarriage is fairly common within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 15 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.
And ultimately, enacting additional regulations related to the end of a pregnancy threatens to turn pregnant women into suspects in the eyes of the law. National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) has documented hundreds of cases of women being held criminally liable for decisions they made while pregnant, particularly if they later suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth. Anti-abortion advocates also tend to pressure states to increase the criminal penalties for violent acts that result in the loss of a pregnancy, an area that can open the door to potential attacks on reproductive rights.
According to Nash, HB 2613 fits into this broader approach.
“The whole point is to further the idea of the fetus as a person. It’s a way of establishing the groundwork for making abortion harder to get, and eventually illegal,” Nash explained. “This is one tiny piece of that overall effort. At the end of the day, this is not the way to go to provide support for a woman who has had a later miscarriage. This doesn’t make up for the loss of a wanted pregnancy, and could also end up infringing on abortion rights.”
Several other attacks on reproductive rights are also looming large in Kansas. A six-week abortion ban has carried over from the state’s last session, and “personhood” activists in Kansas are also attempting to outlaw all abortions by defining life as beginning at conception. The state has already spent more than $1 million defending its stringent anti-abortion laws over the past three years.