Kansas abortion foes not resting after victories

Published: Saturday, Oct. 10 2015 11:19 a.m. MDT

TOPEKA, Kan. — Abortion opponents in Kansas aren't resting after a string of legislative victories at the start of Gov. Sam Brownback's administration, though the proposals they'll pursue most aggressively in 2012 aren't likely to be as eye-catching.

Anti-abortion leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature said they plan to strengthen legal protections for physicians, pharmacists and other health care professionals who don't want to participate in abortions or dispense abortion-inducing drugs. They hope to prevent even indirect taxpayer support for abortions and to add new requirements to a law spelling out what information doctors must provide to women seeking abortions.

Kansas enacted laws in 2011 to restrict private insurance coverage of elective abortions; require doctors to get parents' consent before terminating a minor's pregnancy, and tighten restrictions on late-term abortions based on still-disputed claims that a fetus can feel pain. Legislators also approved measures to set new rules for abortion providers on what equipment, drugs and staffing they must have on hand and prevent the state from forwarding federal family planning dollars for non-abortion services to Planned Parenthood.

Some abortion opponents anticipate interest in trying to prohibit abortion after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, or banning abortion altogether through a "personhood" measure declaring that life begins when an egg is fertilized. But leading anti-abortion legislators and Kansans for Life, the group with the most visible presence at the Statehouse, want to concentrate on proposals that are far more likely to pass and making measurable gains that stand.

"This is like a good ground game in football," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, discussing its strategy of pursuing incremental legislative gains. "I don't believe that we have finished fleshing out every law that we can that is currently constitutional."

But the Legislature won't be the only venue for abortion debates. Abortion providers and abortion rights supporters are challenging the 2011 insurance law, clinic regulations and Planned Parenthood funding measure, and their lawsuits are likely to move forward in state and federal courts.

Just as in 2011, Brownback, a Republican abortion opponent, doesn't plant to propose any legislation, preferring to concentrate on fiscal issues, but he'll sign anti-abortion measures that reach his desk, spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said. Abortion rights supporters fear a wide array of new restrictions because abortion opponents enjoy majorities in both chambers.

"The goal, bottom line, is to make sure that women are denied access," said Julie Burkhart, founder of the abortion-rights group Trust Women, a former employee of the late abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

At least a few legislators think abortion opponents should rest. Their leaders expect the coming legislative session to be crowded with other big issues, including cutting income taxes, overhauling the state's Medicaid program and rewriting its public school funding formula.

House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, said fellow abortion opponents had "a very good year" in 2011, and he's not encouraging more legislation.

"I'm not looking for anything else to add to a very ambitious agenda," he said.

Also, the attorney general's office said it has paid $476,000 to law firms to help with the defense of the three 2011 measures being challenged in federal and state courts.

"Do we really want to make a bunch of attorneys rich? I don't think so," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican who supported some of this year's abortion measures, but not all of them. "Let's wait and see how we fare on what we've already done."

Still, abortion opponents plan to press ahead, despite early court rulings against the clinic regulations and in favor of Planned Parenthood.

"We're in court because there are people who believe in abortion at any cost, and the legislation that we passed was reasonable," said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican who opposes abortion.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, said he and fellow abortion opponents will push for a proposed "conscience" act to supplement a law saying no person can be required to participate in an abortion. Previous versions declared that health care professionals can't be punished by their employers for refusing to participate in abortions or dispensing abortion-inducing drugs and "artificial" birth control.

He said the goal is to prevent health care providers, including hospitals and health care companies, from having to participate in actions they find morally objectionable. But Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, said such changes could hinder the dispensing of common contraceptives, such as birth control pills, allowing a provider's personal religious beliefs to "trump" medical decisions.

Kinzer also is promoting legislation to add to the state's general ban on taxpayer funded abortion by declaring that companies or groups can't get tax credits or deductions against abortion-related expenditures. Burkhart believes state officials would use such a law to discourage businesses, groups and individuals from contributing to abortion-rights causes or to punish them afterward.

Pilcher-Cook said she also wants to make sure that doctors give women seeking abortions a detailed description of each potential abortion procedure, including "what it does to the unborn child."

Rinker predicted a new round of anti-abortion measures represent "a whole bunch more lawsuits."

"It's our last refuge," he said.


Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

Kansans for Life: http://www.kfl.org

Kansas chapter, National Organization for Women: http://www.ksnow.org/

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