The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sam Brownback spent Tuesday re-enacting four times how he signed Kansas anti-abortion bill

Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita was Gov. Sam Brownback’s third stop on his victory lap around the state celebrating Kansas’s new anti-abortion bill. (Courtesy of the Governor’s office.)

On April 7, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a bill outlawing the most commonly used abortion method for women in their second trimester. Kansas is the first state to pass such a ban, which doctors say may force women into choosing more dangerous forms of abortion.

[Kansas opens a new front in the state battle over abortion]

The moment was historic—so historic, that on Tuesday, Brownback took a victory lap around the state, signing the bill again in four separate private ceremonial re-enactments. Each location was at or near a Catholic school, so children could attend.

He started at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Lenexa, just south of Kansas City. Arriving around 9 a.m., he gave some brief remarks in the church’s ballroom facility and signed the bill on a blue paisley tablecloth. There was a photo op with students. He passed out some gubernatorial clicky pens.

“The people of Kansas do not support dismembering children,” Brownback said.

Then it was off to the airport to make his next appointment, St. Mary’s-Colgan High School, 100-some miles to the south in Pittsburg. Same blue tablecloth, same tableau of supporters flanking him with children and babies. Members of the student government and selected representatives from each grade watched him re-sign the bill.

Again, at Bishop Carroll High School, in Wichita, 160 miles due west. (His staffers say the total cost for taking out the state plane was around $1,000.)

“It’s important legislation that will go nationwide,across the country,” he told the students gathered, while protesters outside held signs.

One more time, at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, where school officials say well over 100 students showed up.

There, before a mural that read “Leadership is not self-serving but self-giving,” Brownback told the students about the importance, the sanctity of life. Then they all joined in singing “Home on the Range,” the state song.

At the original signing earlier this month, which was also private, Brownback surrounded himself with anti-abortion activists and two large photographs of fetuses.

He’s conducted these ceremonial signings before, his staffers say. In 2011, for instance, he traveled the state re-enacting the moment he signed a bill giving tax credits to those who move to rural areas. These grand tours give him an opportunity to meet his supporters and to keep his victories fresh in their minds.

Mostly, those victories have been culture-war wins. Brownback, who as a U.S. senator ran for president in 2008, became the Kansas governor in 2011. He promptly embarked on what he called “a real live experiment” in Lafferian economics. Would his drastic tax cuts actually amp up the economy and lead to more state revenue?

[Arthur Laffer has a never-ending supply of supply-side plans for GOP]

The answer, in Kansas, was no. Cutting taxes for the rich and for businesses actually led to less money for the government—a budget shortfall of several hundred million dollars—and sluggish employment growth. Talk about the struggling economy dominated Brownback’s battle for reelection, which he won by a sliver.

But Brownback, who built his political career on faith and values, can always find support from those who admire him for his religious convictions.

Kansas’s new anti-abortion law, which kicks in this summer, will criminalize any procedure in which the fetus is cut into pieces in the womb. This effectively outlaws a technique called “dilation and evacuation,” which involves widening a woman’s cervix and taking out the fetus in parts (so as to reduce damage to her birth canal).

This is the most common abortion procedure for women more than 12-14 weeks pregnant and is considered the safest; women typically don’t have to stay overnight in the hospital.

In 2003, Congress also passed a law banning what it termed a “partial-birth” abortion, in which a fetus is taken out in one piece. Because it’s difficult for the federal government to enforce that ban, 19 states, including Kansas, have passed their own versions.

The language in these kinds of laws, which is non-medical and somewhat hard to interpret, specifically concerns fetuses being cut up or taken out while still viable. To avoid running afoul of these kinds of restrictions, physicians might first inject the fetus with a heart-stopping drug. It’s possible that Kansas’s new law would permit a dilation and evacuation abortion if the fetus were dead by other means first.

Ultimately, a small proportion of women get mid-to-late term abortions. Over 90 percent of abortions take place within the first 13 weeks of gestation, when less risky procedures can be used. In Kansas, it’s estimated that about 9 percent of all abortions involve dilation and evacuation.

But these kinds of anti-abortion bills are part policy and part rhetoric; that’s why they’re written theatrically. The Kansas bill, which was based on model legislation from National Right to Life, talks about:

the use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slice, crush or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body in order to cut or rip it off.

The goal is to convince people that late-term abortions are brutal. (But doctors say the alternative, to take drugs to induce premature delivery, may carry more risks for the mother at later stages of pregnancy.)

A week after Kansas pioneered the “dismemberment abortion” ban, Oklahoma followed suit. But Kansas was first—that was the point of Brownback’s tour of Catholic schools around the state Tuesday, to remind supporters that he is the governor who is leading the nation in making it harder for women to get abortions.