Topeka Buoyed by spring victories in the Kansas Capital, anti-abortion groups are planning to push for more restrictive measures, including one that would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected.
A petition being circulated by Mark Gietzen, board chairman of the Kansas Coalition for Life, calls for Gov. Sam Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican, to convene a special session this fall to consider the so-called “heartbeat bill.”
The Wichita Eagle reported that another group plans to introduce a bill calling for a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing the rights of personhood to every human being from the beginning of biological development, including fertilization.
The measures, which have been considered in other states but never passed into law, could spark a challenge to Roe v. Wade. The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld a woman’s right to an abortion until fetal viability. A fetus is usually considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks. Fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks.
“It is the same as all of the other anti-reproductive rights legislation,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and director of Trust Women, which hopes to open a clinic offering first-trimester abortions and other women’s health services in Wichita in about a year. “It’s about denying access to pregnant women who are in need of reproductive health care. It’s a further step toward the re-criminalization of abortion services for women.”
Even some factions of the anti-abortion movement said the measures go too far.
“We want change to be lasting change, not try to throw the Hail Mary passes,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion organization Kansans for Life, which has offices in Overland Park, Wichita and Topeka.
The group urges incremental action, such as education and working to elect lawmakers who oppose abortion.
“Just because you have a governor that might sign it should it pass both bodies, there’s lots to be considered,” she said. “Is it right for the long run? It’s going to be sued, so where are you going? You end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, where you’re still short a vote.”
But Gietzen, who is pushing for the “heartbeat bill,” cited the numerous anti-abortion measures that Brownback recently signed into law and said, “What else can we do? We’ve got just about everything else covered.”
Bills that have won passage set new licensing requirements for medical facilities that provide abortions; banned abortions after 21 weeks; required minors seeking an abortion to obtain the notarized written consent of both parents or a legal guardian; restricted private insurance coverage for abortions; and redirected federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood to other health care agencies.
The new licensing requirements and the stripping of federal funds from Planned Parenthood already are in the courts.
Rep. Randy Garber, a Republican from Sabetha who is sponsoring the personhood legislation, isn’t sure how that vote will turn out.
“Some strong pro-life people think it’s the wrong way to go,” he said. “I think it’ll be a very close vote.”
He said that he tells critics, “This is why God put me in the Legislature. I really prayed about it.”