Topeka The Kansas Senate gave first-round approval Monday to new restrictions for abortion providers after refusing to add extra language aimed at bolstering existing protections for access to birth control.
Senators also rejected a proposal to add exceptions to the state’s current limits on abortions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. They also retained a provision directing doctors to provide information to women about a disputed potential link between abortion and breast cancer before terminating their pregnancies.
Abortion opponents decried proposed rewrites of the bill as “gotcha” amendments and “political hijinks.” The bill would block tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibit them from supplying materials or instructors for public schools’ sex education courses. It would spell out in greater detail what information doctors must provide to patients before performing abortions and declare that life begins “at fertilization” and that “unborn children” have interests “that should be protected.”
The Senate advanced the measure on a voice vote, setting up final action Tuesday, when abortion opponents expect the legislation to pass because of the chamber’s solid anti-abortion majority. The House approved the measure last month, but senators made technical changes that House members would have to review before the legislation could go to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent.
Senators discussed the bill for more than two hours, and the debate grew heated. The proposals to add rape and incest exceptions to Kansas’ abortion restrictions and strip out the language on breast cancer were soundly rejected in the House.
“These amendments are little gotcha amendments,” Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said, his voice rising. “I’m getting a little irritated at it.”
The legislation is less restrictive than a new law recently enacted by North Dakota legislators to ban abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy or a new Arkansas law prohibiting most abortions after the 12th week.
But some abortion opponents still believe the Kansas measure would help continue a trend in which the state has seen abortions decline 37 percent over the past decade. Abortion-rights advocates view the measure as a major threat to access to abortion services and several groups issued a joint statement saying it “shows a complete disregard for women’s health.”
Senators who support abortion rights said they weren’t trying to show up abortion opponents by offering the amendments on birth control, rape and incest, and breast cancer. Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said he wanted to ensure that policies with broad support among Kansans aren’t eroded.
“It doesn’t matter to any of you, as long as that in utero is protected, above all else,” Haley told his colleagues. “You’re entitled to that, but stand up and be counted.”
Haley offered an amendment to add language to the measure saying that a woman couldn’t face prosecution or civil lawsuits for using birth control. The Senate voted 27-8 against Haley’s amendment after Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and strong abortion opponent, read existing protections in Kansas law for access to birth control.
“This is political hijinks,” Pilcher-Cook said. “We should be focused on the bill instead of trying to make political points.”
Haley also offered an amendment to create the rape and incest exception to the state’s abortion restrictions. It would have applied not only to a law banning most abortions starting in the 22nd week of pregnancy, but to restrictions on private health insurance coverage of elective abortions and a mandate that doctors obtain written consent from parents before performing abortions on minors.
“This language would completely undo 10 to 20 years of abortion legislation,” Pilcher-Cook said.
Sen. Pat Pettey, a Kansas City Democrat, offered the amendment to strip the bill of its language dealing with breast cancer. Like other abortion-rights supporters, she argues the provision would force doctors to provide misleading information to patients, something abortion opponents strongly dispute. The vote was 28-10 against Pettey’s proposal.
Scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute in 2003 concluded that abortion did not raise the risk of breast cancer. Abortion opponents still see a potential link because of evidence that carrying a fetus to term can lessen the risk of breast cancer.