Washington Fresh from helping Congress and President Bush create new abortion restrictions, Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback is at the center of Republicans' next big push against abortion: parental notification.
Brownback wants to require parental notification when children of U.S. armed forces members seek abortions at military facilities.
The measure would have relatively small effect, since abortions at military facilities are restricted now to times when a mother's life is endangered or in cases of rape and incest. But it would send a big message about the ambition of GOP congressional leaders to chip away at the legal right to an abortion.
"That's the way major social change happens in this country, a long, continuous effort," Brownback said in an interview. "The partial-birth abortion debate in itself was about a seven-year-long debate, but during that period of time, you saw hearts and minds change. The public has gone pro-life, overall, in the opinion polling. That's a huge thing."
Congress on Oct. 21 sent the White House a bill banning what abortion opponents call partial-birth abortion. The measure, which Bush intends to sign, would prohibit abortions, generally carried out in the second or third trimester, in which a fetus is partially delivered before being killed.
The bill will impose the most significant restriction on abortion since the Supreme Court legalized abortion three decades ago in the Roe v. Wade decision. It was supported by the five Kansas Republicans in Congress -- Brownback, Sen. Pat Roberts and Reps. Todd Tiahrt, Jim Ryun and Jerry Moran -- and opposed by Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore.
After the measure's final passage, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said that Brownback's parental notification measure would be a next step.
"At least under this leadership, we value life and the sanctity of life. Now, that sends all sorts of signals," Frist told Fox News on Oct. 26.
Also in the works are a federal homicide law that would allow attackers to be punished for harming both a pregnant woman and her fetus -- a response to the deaths in California of Laci Peterson and her unborn son -- and legislation opposing patents that involve human cloning.
Critics point out that Brownback's parental notification bill would go further than Kansas state law, which requires doctors to notify a parent or guardian when a girl under 18 seeks an abortion but does not spell out how notification must be made.
Brownback's bill requires in-person or telephone notification, followed by certified mail notification if a parent can't be reached.
"I suspect this is purely intended to make it very difficult to give notice," said Peter Brownlie, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. "It's just part of the overall effort to restrict access to abortion."
Brownlie said abortion providers encourage teenagers to talk with their parents, "but we don't think it's appropriate or necessary for government to mandate that kind of communication."
"There are times, in fact, when talking to a parent or a parent being informed about a minor's pregnancy or her intention to get an abortion could place that young person at some risk," Brownlie said.