Kansas Abortion foes struggle to get bills passed Legislators look to focus on jobs and tax relief in upcoming 90-day session

By John Hanna

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Abortion opponents are struggling this year to push proposals through the Kansas Legislature because its agenda remains crowded with other big issues and even some anti-abortion lawmakers want to rest after a string of victories last year.

A bill giving health care providers greater legal protections if they refuse to be involved in abortions has cleared the House, but it faces skepticism. A more sweeping measure, designed to keep Kansas from subsidizing abortions even indirectly, has stalled in the House.

The contrast is sharp with last year, when legislators approved a series of measures, vaulting the state to the forefront of a national trend in which abortion foes capitalized on the election of new, sympathetic Republican governors like Kansas' own Sam Brownback.

After legislators return Wednesday from their annual spring break, they'll tackle political redistricting, finish a $14.1 billion budget, decide how much to cut taxes and debate overhauling the state pension system. House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, said he has wanted this year's 90-day session to be "all about jobs and tax relief."

"I don't have any plans to run an abortion bill," O'Neal said of the session's wrap-up. "I don't know that you necessarily have to have a mindset where you have to do something every year."

O'Neal's stance is significant because the House has been more receptive to anti-abortion legislation than the Senate, and O'Neal is a strong abortion opponent. If he holds to his position, abortion opponents would have a mixed year at best, with significant proposals failing despite anti-abortion majorities in both chambers in the past and Brownback's eagerness to sign new abortion restrictions into law.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, said Kansas still has room to strengthen its laws.

Brownback took office in January 2011. In the previous eight years, abortion opponents saw most of their initiatives thwarted by Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, both abortion rights Democrats. Even with Republican Bill Graves as governor 1995 to 2003, abortion opponents were often frustrated.

"We hate to be told that we get to waste a year of a pro-life governor because they think we were given some things last year," Culp said. "From our perspective, we've been at the back of the line for a long time."

Last year, legislators tightened limits on late-term abortions, restricted insurance coverage for elective abortions, required parental consent in writing before a minor's abortion, imposed regulations specifically for abortion providers and blocked Planned Parenthood from being paid by the state to provide non-abortion services.

The new rules for abortion providers, restrictions on insurance coverage and the measure against Planned Parenthood all are tied up in lawsuits, and the attorney general's office had spent nearly $600,000 through March on outside attorneys to defend those policies in state and federal courts.

Meanwhile, the "conscience" bill passed by the House, strengthening existing laws keeping doctors and hospitals from forced involvement in abortions or sterilizations, has drawn strong criticism that it is likely to limit access to birth control. Kansans for Life has acknowledged the measure is broad enough to allow doctors and pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control over moral objections or a reasonable belief that it would terminate pregnancies.

Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said he believes even anti-abortion legislators are sensing a public backlash as birth control becomes part of the debate. Also, he said, the cost of defending laws passed last year "represents misplaced priorities."

"They find that lots of people, including lots of Republicans, think they've been overreaching," Brownlie said. "The national atmosphere around these issues has shifted in the last nine months or so, and they're feeling it even in Kansas."

O'Neal said there can be a pause in considering proposals from abortion foes, given the other significant issues demanding the Legislature's time and because last year, "Frankly, I think they had a good year."

The most likely casualty is legislation containing the proposed "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."

Among other things, it would prevent individual income tax filers from including abortion expenses when claiming a deduction for their medical costs. Nonprofit groups could not claim the normal sales tax exemption on items they buy if they provided abortions.

But the bill also outlaws any abortion performed solely because a woman doesn't like the gender of the fetus. It would prohibit public school courses in human sexuality from using materials from groups providing abortions. Information doctors provide to patients before an abortion would have to list breast cancer as a possible risk of not carrying a pregnancy to term, though a direct link to abortion hasn't been firmly established.

Published: Wed, Apr 25, 2012


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