Topeka A proposal allowing prosecutors to charge someone with murder or other crimes for harming a fetus has advanced in the Senate after abortion opponents who support it maneuvered around a committee that hadn't planned to vote on it.
Backers of "Alexa's Law," named for a murdered Wichita teenager's fetus, amended their proposal into a House-passed bill rewriting other anti-crime laws, and the Senate gave the whole package first-round approval Tuesday.
A lengthy, unrelated debate over gambling delayed final action on the bill, but senators still hoped to take that vote late Wednesday night. Approval would return the bill to the House, which could demand that the two chambers negotiate over a final version or accept the Senate's version - and send the measure to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
The measure declares that the legal definition of "person" includes an "unborn child" at any stage "from fertilization to birth" for 13 crimes, including murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide and battery.
It's become part of the Legislature's ongoing, annual debate over abortion because abortion rights supporters suspect it's a move toward outlawing abortion, despite supporters' denials and language saying the measure doesn't apply to terminating pregnancies.
"Obviously, it has significant support in the House and in the Senate, and every once in a while, you have to vote," Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, said Wednesday. "There's no doubt in my mind that most Kansans support this bill."
Thirty-five states have some law making it a crime to kill or harm a fetus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including Alabama, California, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. However, laws vary state-to-state, and not all apply from conception.
In Kansas, Senate approval of the bill would be a significant victory for abortion opponents, because similar legislation died there in 2002 and 2005. Several supporters of "Alexa's Law" in the House said they'd move to accept the Senate's version.
"That's a priority piece of legislation," said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe. "I'm not aware of any good reason not to go in that direction."
Sebelius hasn't said publicly whether she'll sign or veto the measure, only that she'll have to review it thoroughly, but she's consistently been an ardent abortion rights supporter.
The House approved a proposed "Alexa's Law" in February, but in the Senate, the measure was assigned to the Judiciary Committee, which has among the chamber's heaviest workloads. The panel had a hearing but didn't take a vote, with Chairman John Vratil saying it simply ran out of time to consider it this year.
But Vratil, R-Leawood, also opposes the measure, agreeing with fellow abortion rights supporters that it represents a step toward banning abortion.
Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield, another opponent, said: "You can read it forward, and you can read it backward, and it's still an abortion bill."
Passage of the bill is among the biggest priorities this year for Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group. It has said the measure promotes justice and is in keeping with its larger agenda, which includes opposition to euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
This year's bill was inspired by the case of Chelsea Ann Brooks, a 14-year-old killed less than three weeks before she was to give birth.
Her body was found in a shallow grave in Butler County in June, and three suspects were accused of involvement in her strangling. One, a juvenile, pleaded guilty to a capital murder charge, while two adults await trial. Authorities say one of the adults paid $500 to have the girl murdered to avoid being prosecuted for rape.
The girl's family said such a crime had two victims - Chelsea and her unborn child, whom they'd already named.
Abortion rights advocates offered their own proposals to increase penalties for criminals who harm pregnant women. Goodwin described the murdered Wichita girl as a victim of domestic violence.
"We should have gone after domestic violence," Goodwin said. "No one wants to talk about domestic violence."