Abortion foes in Kansas wrap up series of victories

TOPEKA — Kansas legislators approved restrictions on private insurance coverage for abortions and adopted a state budget stripping funds from a Planned Parenthood affiliate, capping a string of victories Friday for abortion opponents.

Five major proposals cleared the GOP-dominated Legislature as members heeded a call from Gov. Sam Brownback to create "a culture of life."

But Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, the target of much of lawmakers' efforts, said it is consulting with attorneys over possible legal challenges.

"Four or five anti-choice bills, as we would characterize them, is pretty significant," said Tait Sye, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "It would be in the top tier of anti-choice legislatures, which is probably what Brownback wants."

Brownback is expected to sign the bill sent to him by the state House 15 minutes before lawmakers adjourned their annual session. The vote was 86-30 in support of a larger bill that included the abortion coverage restrictions. The state Senate had approved it Thursday night, 28-10.

House Bill 2075 bars insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their regular health coverage plans. Under the bill's provisions, general insurance plans could cover termination of pregnancy only in emergencies to save the mother's life.

If the bill becomes law as expected, starting in July, individuals and employers who want abortion coverage would have to buy supplemental policies that cover only abortion.

Opponents in both chambers challenged whether the provision, which had not passed either chamber this year, could be brought to the floor through a conference committee report under House and Senate rules.

President and CEO Peter Brownlie said Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri believes lawmakers violated their own rules in passing the bill in the session's final hours.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe and a leader of the anti-abortion faction in the House, sought to divorce House Bill 2075 from abortion and position it as protecting employers who offer insurance plans to their workers.

"This bill is crucial in terms of protecting the consciences of employers around the state who find abortion to be morally abhorrent and to make sure we take a clear stance in electing not to provide abortion coverage, something that the president and Congress, Democrat controlled at the time, gave the states a right to elect," he said.

As tempers frayed toward the end of the end of the 18-hour session, female legislators harshly criticized the fact that the bill contains no exceptions for medical emergencies, such as when a woman is raped or is carrying a twin that is dying in the womb and has to be removed for the health of the other fetus.

"There's clearly a message here that women are dispensable, disposable second-class citizens and they're getting pushed back further and further and further every time we talk about this issue," said Rep. Anne Kuether, D-Topeka. "There's a very righteous attitude for the pro-life movement and it's very clear in this body."

Pro-life governor

The $13.8 billion budget approved by legislators early Friday includes a provision diverting about $330,000 in federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri to public hospitals and health departments. Brownlie warned that it will be forced to reduce services dramatically at clinics in Hays and Wichita, which don't perform abortions, without affecting one in the Kansas City suburbs that terminates pregnancies.

Brownback already has signed legislation to limit abortions after 21 weeks based on the concept of fetal pain and require doctors to obtain written permission from parents before terminating minors' pregnancies. Legislators also have sent him a bill to impose new health and safety standards specifically for abortion clinics, which Brownback plans to sign Monday.

"Governor Brownback has never been shy about the fact that he's pro-life," spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said.

Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said the state's new laws will protect women who seek abortions from dangerous clinics and provide more accurate reporting by doctors about their activities.

Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, who held the office before Brownback, blocked most major changes in Kansas abortion laws, vetoing legislation that is becoming law this year.

Anti-abortion wave

The measures in Kansas are part of a wave of anti-abortion legislation across the nation, as abortion opponents have been encouraged by the election of new Republican governors last year and conservative legislators.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization supporting abortion rights, said Kansas and Missouri are among seven states now with restrictions on private health insurance coverage of abortion. Also, a dozen states, including Kansas, restrict coverage in health exchanges.

Planned Parenthood officials say moves to strip funds from affiliates are afoot in at least five other states; one in Indiana has filed a lawsuit there.

"Why would we want to continue to give Planned Parenthood tax dollars to ostensibly prevent pregnancy, when they make even more money performing abortions when that 'prevention' fails?" said Mary Kay Culp, Kansans for Life's executive director.

But Brownlie said the Planned Parenthood clinics offer a wide range of services, including thousands of breast exams and tests for sexually transmitted diseases each year. The federal dollars account for about 10 percent of the budget for its Kansas operations, he said.

Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said the bills passed by the anti-abortion forces that dominate the Legislature would result in more abortions, not less, by denying funding to Planned Parenthood to provide birth control to poor women and shortening the period of time women have to decide whether to end a pregnancy that goes awry.

"We have done nothing to reduce abortion," she said.