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Kansas Senate passes anti-abortion bill defining life as beginning at fertilization

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Monday, April 1, 2013, at 8:29 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, April 1, 2013, at 10:56 p.m.

— A bill defining human life as beginning at fertilization and outlawing any direct or indirect state support for abortions cruised to Senate approval Monday.

But not before outnumbered Democrats forced Republicans into politically risky roll-call votes over birth control and whether to exempt victims of rape and incest from state abortion restrictions.

The Senate moved the bill forward with only one minor technical amendment. A final recorded vote is expected Tuesday.

Senate support virtually guarantees that House Bill 2253 will become state law.

The bill has already passed the House of Representatives and Gov. Sam Brownback has pledged to sign any anti-abortion legislation that the Legislature sends him.

The bill at hand, House Bill 2253, makes several changes in state abortion and tax laws, including defining life as beginning at the moment of fertilization and eliminating damage to a woman’s mental health as justification for mid- to late-term abortions.

In addition, the bill:

• Prohibits paid agents or volunteers connected to abortion providers – including Planned Parenthood – from providing any information on human sexuality to students in public schools.

• Requires clinics that perform abortions to provide women with detailed information on gestational development.

• Requires abortion providers to provide patients with a directory of anti-abortion alternative programs.

Supporters say the primary focus of the bill is to prevent abortion opponents from having to provide even the most indirect support of abortion through their taxes.

It would restrict women from claiming any medical or insurance costs related to abortion services as a deduction on state income taxes. It also prohibits any state funding, tax credits or other benefits from going to any medical practice or facility that allows abortions to be performed.

Democrats’ amendments led to an unusually heated floor debate.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, accused conservative Republicans of pushing “narrow Taliban-like philosophies on our state’s persons.”

Haley, a former Republican, said the party’s focus on interfering in people’s private lives were a big reason he switched parties.

“I was a Bob Dole Republican,” he said. “Some of you all might remember him; most of you don’t.”

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, who carried the bill on the floor, accused Haley of misrepresenting the intent of the 72-page bill.

“It has to do with giving parents confidence that their children will not be exposed to abortion policy in sex-education classes and eliminates any taxpayer funding for abortions so that taxpayers do not feel their money is going to provide for abortions,” Pilcher-Cook said.

Haley proposed an amendment that would have clarified that defining life as beginning at fertilization would not ban forms of birth control that work by interfering with uterine implantation of a fertilized egg, such as the IUD and morning-after pill.

“The majority of the public, I believe, don’t want to see birth control outlawed,” Haley said.

That drew an angry retort from Pilcher-Cook, who called Haley’s amendment “political high jinks.”

“This is just ridiculous,” she said. “We should be focused on the bill instead of trying to make political points with amendments.”

She said the right to birth control is protected by other state laws, but Haley persisted that if state policy is that life begins at fertilization, some would interpret that to equate birth control with abortion.

Haley’s amendment failed, but did put 27 Republican senators on the record with a vote that could be used later to try to paint them as being anti-birth control. Only the eight Democrats voted for the amendment and five moderate Republicans took a pass.

The same forces clashed over a Haley amendment to provide women and girls who became pregnant through rape, incest or aggravated indecency an exemption from the state’s regimen of strict anti-abortion laws.

Haley said the definition of parenthood in the bill could convey to rapists and other abusers the ability to stop a woman’s decision to abort a pregnancy resulting from a sex crime.

Pilcher-Cook said she found it offensive to imply that she was trying to protect rapists and molesters.

That amendment failed 28-9, but got one Republican vote, from Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka moderate.

Another fought-over provision establishes a statutory mandate that abortion doctors must provide controversial medical information to women who are seeking an abortion, specifically of a link between abortion and breast cancer.

The National Cancer Institute has characterized that as a “false alarm,” saying: “At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

But Pilcher-Cook argued that scientific studies vary and that the information is already provided to women under state health regulations.

The bill would put that requirement in state law, she said.

Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, attempted an amendment to remove the language from the bill, saying it was misinforming women.

Pettey’s amendment failed on a vote of 28-10. Two Republicans voted with the Democrats, Schmidt and Kay Wolf, R-Prairie Village.

Reach Dion Lefler at 785-296-3006 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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