TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas House members on Tuesday gave first-round approval to sweeping new restrictions on abortion after refusing to add exceptions that would allow victims of incest or rape — including children who are raped — to get late-term abortions.
The measure builds upon the state's current ban on most abortions starting in the 22nd week of pregnancy by barring abortion providers from receiving tax breaks and prohibiting public schools from using sex education materials or instructors affiliated with abortion providers. It would also strengthen a law aimed at preventing doctors-in-training at the state medical school from performing abortions on state time, and would spell out in greater detail what information a doctor would have to provide a patient before giving her an abortion.
The House advanced the measure on a voice vote after voting 90-31 against an amendment from Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat, to make an exception for the victims of rape and incest. Wilson's proposal also would have applied the exception to laws restricting private health insurance coverage for elective abortions and a requirement that doctors notify parents in writing when a child seeks an abortion.
Final action on the bill is expected Wednesday, and the Republican-dominated House has a strong anti-abortion majority, so that the measure is expected to pass and go to the Senate. Abortion opponents argue that the legislation demonstrates a commitment to life and lessens the state's entanglement in a procedure that many residents find objectionable.
The legislation is less restrictive than a measure approved by North Dakota legislators this month that would ban abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and a new Arkansas law prohibiting most abortions after the 12th week. But abortion-rights advocates still see it as a major threat to access to abortion services, and Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the Kansas House's vote against adding a rape and incest exception shows that most members hold extreme views.
"It is a commonsense, compassionate exception," Higgins said after the House's debate. "Even some of the most restrictive legislation in the country — that 12-week Arkansas abortion ban — does include an exception for rape and incest, and it's agreed upon that abortion statutes shouldn't touch those kinds of situations."
Abortion opponents noted that state law already allows abortions for any reasons before the 22nd week of pregnancy, though women and girls seeking them generally must wait 24 hours and doctors provide information about the procedure, other medical information and alternatives to abortion. Starting at 22 weeks, abortions are banned unless a woman's life is in danger or she faces major, irreversible harm to her physical health.
"When we get to the point in time when we're doing earlier restrictions, then that becomes an issue," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and anti-abortion leader among legislators, said of an exception for rape or incest.
Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, has urged legislators to make incremental changes in state law to reduce abortions, rather than push for restrictions like those enacted in North Dakota or Arkansas, which are likely to face court challenges. Even Kansas lawmakers who'd like to go farther in restricting abortion see the House bill as a significant step forward.
"We must stop this genocide that is happening in the America," said Rep. Joe Edwards, a Haysville Republican and an evangelist and ordained Assemblies of God minister. "If we can stop one (abortion), we've got to do it."
But the bill drew criticism from the House's outnumbered abortion-rights supporters as a measure that requires doctors to provide misleading information about abortion to patients — something backers strongly dispute.
Much of the criticism stems from language in the bill including breast cancer among the potential risks to be covered by the information doctors must provide. Advocates on both sides note there's medical evidence that carrying a fetus to term lessens a woman's risk of breast cancer, but in 2003, a group of doctors convened by the National Cancer Institute concluded abortion did not raise the risk of breast cancer.
As for barring abortion providers from providing materials and instructors for public schools' sex education classes, state officials have said they're not aware of examples. Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions at its Johnson County clinic, offers materials and instructors when invited but doesn't track how often schools ask.
The anti-abortion measure is HB 2253.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Text of bill, text of Wilson and Bollier amendment and recorded vote on Wilson amendment: http://bit.ly/11bhzwo
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