By John Celock
Saying her goal is to reduce abortions, a moderate Republican lawmaker in Kansas has introduced legislation to replicate a Colorado contraception program in the state.
Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) Tuesday filed a bill that would create a long-acting reversible contraception program within the state. Modeled after a Colorado program, the proposal would have Kansas health officials work with providers to increase knowledge and use of long-acting reversible contraception in the state, along with helping to offset the costs for low-income individuals in the state. Bollier said that she filed the bill in order to reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions in the state.
“If we reduce unplanned pregnancy, that will reduce abortion in Kansas,” Bollier told The Celock Report. “There are so many good things about that. I want to work on all sides. I want to reduce abortions in Kansas.”
Bollier said under her bill the state Department of Health and Environment would work with outside providers to set up programs to increase outreach and marketing to residents about long-acting reversible contraception, along with providing increased access to the contraception, including financial support to help purchase the implants.
Data from the Colorado program shows a 40 percent decrease in teen pregnancies since 2009 and that the abortion rate dropped 42 percent for those between the ages of 15 and 19 and 18 percent for those between the ages of 20 and 24.
Bollier said she is looking to address teen pregnancies in the state, saying that a reduction in the pregnancy rate will have a series of benefits, including less spending on social services and a decrease in abortions. In terms of financing the plan, Bollier said her bill would require the state to look for federal grant monies to offset the costs of assisting with accessing the contraception.
“Part of this would require them to seek federal grant money,” she said. “This is available and was recommended in the Alvarez & Marsal report.”
Bollier was referencing the state efficiency study delivered to lawmakers last month by the outside consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal. In the report A&M addressed a series of federal grant programs in the health care sector that the state government should start applying for. Among them was federal funds for teen pregnancy prevention. In the report, A&M said that they compared Kansas to several “benchmark states” regarding funds sought out for health care programs from the federal government.
“Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program – the purpose of this grant is to (1) replicate evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program models that have been shown to be effective through rigorous evaluation and (2) research and demonstration projects to develop and test additional models and innovative strategies to prevent teen pregnancy,” A&M wrote. “Of the nine benchmark states reviewed, five receive this grant with the average size award of $54 million.”
In addition to federal grants, Bollier said she can see other avenues to pay for the program including cost savings from a reduction in teen pregnancies and redirecting money the state spends on defending lawsuits filed against anti-abortion law to her proposal.
“Lets take some of that money and reduce abortions by reducing unplanned pregnancies,” she said.
Bollier, a retired physician who has supported pro-choice legislation, is joined by 18 lawmakers in sponsoring the bill, including five other moderate Republicans and 13 Democrats.
One of Bollier’s co-sponsors, Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita), the top Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, told The Celock Report pointed to a connection between teen pregnancies and an increase in the need for social services programs for the mothers and children.
“It is not a question of if the state will pay but how the state will pay,” he said.
A report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said that the state has seen that for every dollar the state has spent on the contraception program, it has saved $5.85 in Medicaid spending over the same period. The report said the drop in teen pregnancies during that time allowed the state to save between $49 million and $111 million on birth related costs in the Medicaid program.
Bollier said that she hopes to work with pro-life lawmakers and groups on the bill.
Kansans for Life executive director Mary Kay Culp told The Celock Report that she has not had a chance to review the legislation and would not offer an official position under she has reviewed it. Culp did note though that the group generally opposes any program that would prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a women’s uterus, which she said could be the result of a long-acting contraception.
House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) told The Celock Report that the legislation has not been assigned any committee but noted that Bollier has reached out to discuss the issue with him. He said he does not plan to take a position on the bill until he has had a chance to review it and the report that will document the fiscal impact on the state.
“Coming up with something we have to pay for always makes it more difficult,” he said. “I want to see what the fiscal note for the bill is.”
Bollier and her allies will likely face an uphill battle in the state Legislature to steer the bill to passage. The conservative Republican-controlled Legislature has favored the passage of bills to reduce abortions in the state through a series of bills to limit the procedure. Last year, lawmakers passed legislation to ban dismemberment abortions in the state, a law that is currently being litigated in the courts, with a ruling last month by the Kansas Court of Appeals upholding a lower court ruling against the ban.
Planned Parenthood lobbyist Elise Higgins told The Celock Report that while she and others would like to see the bill passed this year, that the proposal is part of a “multi-year movement to proactively improve reproductive health care in Kansas.”
The bill’s sponsorship by Democrats and moderate Republicans can also imperil its chances in the House, where moderate Republicans have been largely sidelined. Last year, several outspoken moderates, including Bollier and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), a co-sponsor, found themselves removed from committees by the House speaker.
Bollier said she took the step of attaching her name to the bill, rather than introducing it via a committee, in order to stake her background as a retired physician on the proposal.
“I wanted it to be clear that the physician is trying hard to work on an anti-abortion bill,” she said. “Anti-abortion is pro women’s health. It is both things.”