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Kansas anti-abortion measure not enough for some

3/27/2013

By JOHN HANNA

By JOHN HANNA

AP Political Writer

TOPEKA -- Kansas legislators are moving to block tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibit their involvement in public schools' sex education classes, but some lawmakers pushed Tuesday to ban most abortions, even early in pregnancy.

A bill that the Senate is expected to debate next week would not only keep abortion providers from claiming a wide range of tax exemptions and credits, it would bar them from providing sex education materials and instructors to public schools. It would spell out in greater detail what information doctors have to provide patients before performing abortions and declare that life begins "at fertilization" and that "unborn children" have interests "that should be protected."

Abortion opponents consider the bill comprehensive, and abortion-rights advocates believe enacting it would make it significantly more difficult for women to terminate pregnancies. It already passed the House, and if senators make no changes, their approval would send it to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent. A debate was planned Tuesday in the Senate but was delayed by other business.

But some Kansas legislators want to prohibit most abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, something that can occur as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee had a hearing on such a measure Tuesday.

The Kansas House committee hearing came the same day North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a ban on such abortions into law. But in Kansas, abortion opponents are split over tactics, and it's not clear how far a fetal heartbeat bill will advance.

"I don't know what it hurts to wait a year," said Kansas House committee Chairman Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican who opposes abortion.

The bill before the Kansas Senate is designed to prevent the state from subsidizing abortions even indirectly. For example, a woman who had an abortion couldn't include the costs if she deducts medical expenses from her income for tax purposes, and an abortion provider could not claim the same exemption from the state sales tax on what it purchases that other health care providers receive.

Kansas law already bans most abortions starting with the 22nd week of pregnancy, requires doctors to notify parents or guardians in writing before performing abortions for minors, and restricts private health insurance coverage for elective abortions. Health and safety requirements imposed specifically for abortion providers in 2011 are being challenged in state court.

And Kansans for Life, the state's most influential anti-abortion group, has urged legislators to keep enacting incremental changes, arguing that they're likely to withstand court challenges. That's shifted attention from Kansas to Arkansas, which recently enacted a law banning most abortions at the 12th week of pregnancy, and North Dakota, which would have the nation's toughest restrictions.

The Kansas version of those measures would require doctors to attempt to detect a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion, with the state determining what tests will be used. If a heartbeat is detected, an abortion would be allowed only to save the woman's life or prevent serious and permanent harm to her physical health.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican and the measure's leading sponsor, said a fetal heartbeat is likely to be detected within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

But the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women said the ban could apply within four weeks of conception -- preventing many women from having abortions before they even know they are pregnant. Kansas NOW lobbyist Elise Higgins called the measure "unprecedented in its extremity."

Some abortion opponents have misgivings about pursuing such proposals because they fear they will lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits how far states can go in restricting abortion -- and perhaps even roll back some existing restrictions. But DeGraaf said any serious attempt to limit abortion is "fraught with court challenges."

As for the disagreement about tactics among abortion opponents, DeGraaf said, "There's always division among friends. My wife and I don't agree on everything."

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The anti-abortion measure before the Senate is HB 2253. The fetal heartbeat bill is HB 2324.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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