Sweeping antiabortion bill goes to Kansas governor

April 6, 2013

Kansas legislators gave final passage to a sweeping antiabortion measure Friday night, sending Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that declares life begins “at fertilization” while blocking tax breaks for abortion providers and banning abortions performed solely because of the baby’s sex.

The House voted 90 to 30 for a compromise version of the bill reconciling differences between the two chambers, only hours after the Senate approved it, 28 to 10. The Republican governor is a strong abortion opponent, and supporters of the measure expect him to sign it into law so that the new restrictions take effect July 1.

In addition to the bans on tax breaks and sex-selection abortions, the bill prohibits abortion providers from being involved in public school sex education classes and spells out in more detail what information doctors must provide to patients seeking abortions.

The measure’s language that life begins “at fertilization” had some abortion-rights supporters worrying that it could be used to legally harass providers. Abortion opponents call it a statement of principle and not an outright ban on terminating pregnancies.

“The human is a magnificent piece of work at all stages of development, wondrous in every regard, from the microscopic until full development,” said state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican who supported the bill.

Abortion opponents argue the full measure lessens the state’s entanglement with terminating pregnancies, but abortion-rights advocates say it threatens access to abortion services.

The declaration that life begins at fertilization is embodied in “personhood” measures in other states. Such measures are aimed at revising their constitutions to ban all abortions, and none have been enacted, although North Dakota voters will have one on the ballot in 2014.

But Kansas lawmakers are not trying to change the state constitution, and the measure notes that any rights suggested by the language are limited by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. It declared in its historic Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that women have a right to obtain abortions in some circumstances, and has upheld that decision while allowing increasing restrictions by states.

Thirteen states, including Missouri, have such language in their laws, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas Democrat who opposed the bill, zeroed in on the statement, saying that supporters of the bill were pursuing a “Taliban-esque” course of letting religious views dictate policy limiting women’s ability to make decisions about health care and whether they will have children.

And in the House, Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat, complained that the bill was “about politics, not medicine.”

“It’s the very definition of government intrusion in a woman’s personal medical decisions,” he said.

Brownback has signed several antiabortion measures into law, and the number of pregnancies terminated in the state has declined 11 percent since he took office in January 2011. The governor said he still has to review this year’s bill thoroughly but added, “I am pro-life.”

This year’s legislation is less restrictive than a new North Dakota law that bans abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and a new Arkansas law prohibiting most abortions after the 12th week.

— Associated Press

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