Anti-abortion bills likely to be pushed in Kansas

? Kansas anti-abortion activists feel confident they will be able to push through laws in 2011 to further restrict the procedures.

An ardent foe of abortion rights becomes governor in January and Republicans will have a big majority in the state House.

Abortion rights opponents are looking to further restrict late-term procedures, increase reporting requirements for physicians and make it harder for abortion clinics to get licensed.

Gov.-elect Sam Brownbeck has said he will sign any anti-abortion legislation that reaches his desk.

Mary Kay Culp, the executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, says it’s a new day in terms of having a governor receptive to stricter anti-abortion legislation.

With an ideological ally about to become governor and Republicans poised to have a big majority in the state House, Kansas abortion rights foes believe they have their best shot in years to push through tighter restrictions on the procedures.

Proposals being discussed would further restrict late-term abortions, increase reporting requirements for physicians and make it harder for abortion clinics to get licensed.

“A new day has dawned and I think we are going to see a tightening of abortion law in Kansas,” said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue.

The May 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers, by an anti-abortion fanatic dealt a huge blow to Kansas abortion rights movement. Not only did Tiller’s Wichita clinic close, but the political action committee he founded and funded was disbanded at the request of his family. Founded in 2002, ProKanDo spent more than $1 million in the four years before Tiller’s death promoting abortion rights, helping candidates who supported abortion rights and working against anti-abortion candidates. Its former director, Julie Burkhart, said Tiller understood that advocacy was an important part of ensuring women received care.

“Having that champion . . . we don’t have him,” she said. “We don’t have that in anyone else at this time.”

Burkhart, who now heads a St. Louis-based political action committee called Trust Women, said she expects to see a number of anti-abortion rights bills proposed in Kansas this session, particularly since Brownback follows Democratic governors who had vetoed such bills. Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become Health and Human Services secretary under President Barack Obama. She was succeeded by Gov. Mark Parkinson, who chose not to run for a full term.

“Kathleen Sebelius was a great champion — she was our backstop for so many years in Kansas,” Burkhart said.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said before lawmakers raise new issues, they should go back and pass legislation that Sebelius and Parkinson vetoed. Those bills included new regulations for clinics, restrictions on late-term procedures and increased reporting requirements for physicians. They’ve already been vetted and are far more likely to be signed by Brownback this session, she said.

“It is a whole new day as far as having someone (in the governor’s office) who is going to be open at looking at the concerns we have about the effect of abortion on unborn children and their mothers,” Culp said.

Brownback said he doesn’t expect to propose legislation on abortion because he’ll be focused on improving the economy and keeping the state budget balanced.

“I will sign pro-life legislation that reaches my desk,” he told The Associated Press. “It will be up to the legislative bodies to determine what it is that they want to pass or will pass.”

Abortion rights opponents in Kansas and several other states are also considering pushing for so-called fetal pain laws modeled on one recently passed in neighboring Nebraska.

Nebraska’s law, which took effect Oct. 15, outlaws abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain after that point. It is a departure from the standard of viability, established by the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which allows states to limit abortions in cases where there’s a chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb, which is generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks.

“(Fetal pain) deserves a serious look and so we are taking a serious look at it,” Culp said.

Abortion opponents plan to hold their annual rally Jan. 21 on the steps of the state’s capital building.

Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said his group will continue to do everything it can to protect the rights of women to make their own decisions about reproduction. But it can count on less than 25 percent of Kansas’ House members’ votes, he said.

“There is no question it is going to be a challenging session given the election outcome,” Brownlie said.