Topeka The Kansas Senate approved new restrictions for abortion providers Tuesday, moving the state’s most-sweeping legislation on the issue this year close to final passage.
The vote was 29-11 on a measure blocking tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibiting them from furnishing materials or instructors for sex education classes in public schools. The measure also would prevent abortion patients from including abortion costs when deducting medical expenses on their state income taxes.
The bill spells out in greater detail what information doctors must provide to patients before performing abortions, including information about abortion and breast cancer. Scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute in 2003 concluded abortion did not raise the risk of breast cancer, but abortion opponents point to evidence that carrying a fetus to term can lessen the risk.
The measure also declares life begins “at fertilization” and that “unborn children” have interests “that should be protected.”
The House approved the legislation last month. Senators made technical changes, and House members must review the revisions before the measure can go to Gov. Sam Brownback. But supporters of the bill expect the House’s review to be a formality and the bill to win final legislative approval this week.
“I don’t have any immediate concerns about it,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and a leader among anti-abortion lawmakers.
Both chambers have solid anti-abortion majorities, and the Republican governor is a strong abortion opponent. Brownback has signed anti-abortion measures into law since taking office in January 2011.
This year’s legislation is less restrictive than a new North Dakota law that bans abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy or a new Arkansas law prohibiting most abortions after the 12th week. But abortion-rights advocates still view the Kansas measure as a major threat to abortion access.
Both chambers rejected proposals to add specific exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest to all of the state’s abortion restrictions, and senators refused to add language supplementing existing legal protections for access to birth control.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who supports abortion rights, said the bill not only injects abortion politics into tax policy but invades women’s privacy. Also, she said, it would create a hostile environment that discourages health care providers from performing even a few abortions in medical emergencies.
“We’re going into a whole different realm,” Bollier said. “It becomes a police state, where you’re afraid.”
Abortion opponents see such criticism as overheated but also believe the measure would continue a trend in which the state has seen abortions decline 37 percent during the past decade. Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, has urged legislators to avoid headline-grabbing initiatives likely to face court challenges in favor of incremental changes.
“I would call it a small but meaningful step forward,” Kinzer said.
The provisions dealing with tax breaks are designed to prevent the state from subsidizing abortions even indirectly. For example, an abortion provider could not claim the same exemption from the state sales tax on what it purchases that other health care providers receive.
Kinzer said he doubts providers claim many of the tax breaks that would be denied to them under the bill. He also acknowledged he doesn’t know of any recent examples of abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood being invited by public schools to participate in sex education classes.
But he said enacting restrictions in law would at least prevent such situations in the future.