Topeka An influential anti-abortion legislator is blocking the push for a ban on abortion in the Kansas Constitution, highlighting a split among abortion opponents over tactics and frustrating the group advocating the "personhood" proposal Friday.
Chairman Lance Kinzer said he doesn't plan to have a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the proposed constitutional amendment, which is sponsored by 25 other House members. Kinzer is the leading supporter of a bill to add new requirements for abortion providers into state law and ensure that the state doesn't provide even indirect financing of abortions through income tax credits or deductions.
Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and attorney, said he doesn't believe the proposed constitutional amendment would withstand a court challenge and could lead to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could hamper abortion opponents' attempts to enact new restrictions. Kansans for Life, the anti-abortion group with the most influence at the Statehouse, takes the same position.
But the Personhood Kansas Committee, the Wichita-area group promoting the proposed amendment, strongly disagrees, and Chairman Bruce Garren said he's surprised that Kinzer won't at least agree to a hearing, particularly because there's interest among Kinzer's colleagues.
"We have 25 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. You'd think that would be enough to get a hearing," Garren said. "It's really frustrating."
Both chambers would have to adopt the proposed amendment by two-thirds majorities — something that's likely in the House but uncertain in the Senate. If both did, the measure would go on the statewide ballot in the Aug. 7 primary election, where approval by a simple majority would add it to the Constitution.
Passage of a bill like the one Kinzer favors would require only simple majorities in both chambers and Brownback's signature.
Kinzer is pushing a 68-page bill to rewrite the state's "informed consent" law on abortion, requiring doctors to provide certain information before terminating a woman's pregnancy. Among other things, it would require doctors to allow their patients to hear a fetal heartbeat. The bill also would ensure there is no change to printed materials for patients, including one part that discusses alternatives to abortion and says, "What about adoption?"
Also, the bill would prohibit schools from incorporating materials for any group that provides abortion services into classes that deal with human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases.
Kinzer said he's pursuing proposals that are likely to "maximizing the number of babies that we can save immediately" and trying to "push the boundaries" of restrictions allowed under federal court rulings.
"Neither of those goals really is advanced by the personhood amendment," Kinzer said.
Sarah Gillooly, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which provides abortions, said many abortion opponents understand that pursuing the personhood amendment is risky.
If supporters succeeded in amending the Kansas Constitution, a court challenge is considered likely. In fact, supporters of the proposed amendment see it as a way to directly challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court establishing a right to an abortion.
But Gillooly and fellow abortion rights advocates have suggested the Kansas proposal is written broadly enough to outlaw some common birth-control methods and argue that pursuing it could lead to a political backlash. In Mississippi, nearly 55 percent of the voters in the November election rejected the "personhood" ballot measure there. Colorado voters rejected similar proposals in 2008 and 2010.
"It's a little bit of a public relations disaster for the pro-life movement," Gillooly said.
The bill Kinzer favors is before the House Federal and State Committee, which had two days of hearings this week and could vote on it next week. The Federal and State Affairs Committee typically handles abortion legislation, but House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican and abortion opponent, assigned the proposed personhood amendment to the Judiciary Committee, leaving its fate with Kinzer.
"That is one that is fraught with legal issues that Representative Kinzer knows all about," O'Neal said.
Garren said the Personhood Kansas Committee has collected more than 8,000 signatures on petitions advocating the amendment and said many Kansas want an opportunity to vote on banning abortion.
"They do see that the end goal is the end of abortion and the end of the taking of innocent human life," he said. "There are just a lot of people who think we've had plenty of opportunities to regulate it out of existence."