Kan. House panel approves big anti-abortion bill

John Hanna, AP Political Writer
Kan. House panel approves big anti-abortion bill

Kansas state Rep. Willie Dove, a Bonner Springs Republican, makes a point during the House Federal and State Affairs Committee's debate on anti-abortion legislation, Thursday, March 7, 2013, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Watching him is Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A Kansas House committee on Thursday approved sweeping anti-abortion legislation that would prohibit public schools using sex-education instruction from Planned Parenthood and would block tax breaks for abortion providers and patients.

The bill that cleared the Federal and State Affairs Committee doesn't contain changes as dramatic as a new Arkansas law that bans most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy, but abortion rights supporters in Kansas still see it as a serious threat to access to the procedure. Abortion opponents argue the measure lessens the state's entanglement with a procedure many residents find objectionable.

The Kansas legislation rewrites tax laws to prevent groups providing abortions from receiving tax exemptions or credits that go to other nonprofit groups or health care providers. Also, a woman who claims an income tax deduction for medical expenses couldn't include the cost of abortion services.

The bill spells out in more detail what information doctors must provide to women before terminating their pregnancies, and it strengthens a law against residents at the state's medical school performing abortions on state time. It declares that life begins "at fertilization," and "unborn children have interests in life, health and well-being that should be protected."

The legislation would prohibit any abortion provider from furnishing materials or instructors for sex education classes in public schools. School district employees and companies or groups under contract to provide educational services couldn't be involved in performing abortions.

"It is meant to be comprehensive," said Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican who opposes abortion and serves as the committee's vice chairman.

The provision dealing with public schools is similar to a 2007 Missouri law and legislation considered in Texas this week.

Julie Burkhart, founder of the Wichita-based abortion-rights group Trust Women, said the Kansas measure would "stigmatize" anyone associated with providers and violates their free speech rights.

In Kansas, decisions about course content are left largely to local school boards, and education officials said Thursday that they're not aware of examples of abortion providers furnishing materials or instructors for sex education classes. But districts aren't required to report such information.

Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said his group provides both materials and instructors when invited but doesn't track how often schools ask. Planned Parenthood offers abortions at its clinic in Johnson County.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, said parents shouldn't have to worry about their children being educated by groups like Planned Parenthood "so that they can learn where the local abortion clinic is."

"It's like if you let the driver's ed come from the local Buick dealer down the street," she said.

The proposed legislation had drawn criticism because it initially was drafted broadly enough to prevent abortion providers or their employees from volunteering at their children's schools. Even some strong abortion opponents blanched and successfully worked to narrow the language.

But Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, a Grandview Plaza Republican, argued in favor of the broader language.

"If we're going to have people in our education system, I don't want them involved in any way, shape or form or manner in killing children, killing babies," Rothlisberg said. "We should have people of integrity and morality teaching our children."

Abortion rights opponents in Kansas have pushed successfully for a series of new restrictions since Gov. Sam Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican, took office in January 2011. Both legislative chambers have solid anti-abortion majorities, and the bill approved by the House committee is likely to become law.

But Kansans for Life has not pushed for changes as dramatic as those in Arkansas, fearing they could lead to adverse court rulings. Culp said Kansas has succeeded in reducing abortions with an incremental approach.

The Senate has approved a bill making it a crime for doctors to perform abortions solely because a woman or her family doesn't want a baby of a certain gender. Over the past two years, Kansas has tightened limits on late-term abortions, required doctors performing abortions on minors to obtain written consent from their parents or guardians, and restricted private health insurance coverage for abortions.

Kansas also imposed new health and safety regulations specifically for abortion providers that are being challenged in court.

Brunk acknowledged that he and other legislators would like to go further by perhaps enacting a near-ban as restrictive as Arkansas'. But he said abortion opponents aren't yet united on taking such an approach.

Meanwhile, abortion rights supporters are vigorously attacking the bill approved by the House committee.

"There definitely parts of this bill that are as serious a threat to access as the 12-week ban in Arkansas," said Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women. "It's just a little more sneaky."

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The anti-abortion bill is HB 2253.

Online:

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

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