TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas legislators Wednesday approved a proposed ban on a common second-trimester procedure described by abortion opponents as dismembering a fetus, making their state the first to adopt a national group’s model policy.
The state House voted 98-26 to outlaw the dilation and evacuation procedure, which is used in about 8 percent of all abortions in Kansas. The measure was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee.
The Senate approved the bill last month, so it goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who promised publicly during an anti-abortion rally in January to sign it. Mary Spaulding Balch, the national group’s director of state legislation, said lawmakers are banning a “brutal” and “violent” procedure.
“When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone,” she said in a statement.
Trust Women, an abortion-rights group that founded a clinic in Wichita that terminates pregnancies, promised to challenge the law in court. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which performs abortions at an Overland Park clinic, is also consulting with attorneys, spokeswoman Elise Higgins said.
The Kansas attorney general’s office has paid outside attorneys $1.2 million to defend multiple anti-abortion laws enacted since Brownback took office in January 2011. The state has yet to lose a case.
“They are willing to put the health of women in Kansas at risk in order to advance their extreme political agenda,” Laura McQuade, the Planned Parenthood chapter’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “This legislation could force physicians to provide substandard care to their patients.”
Both chambers of the GOP-dominated Legislature have strong anti-abortion majorities, so the bill always stood a good chance of passing, but the House’s debate Wednesday showed that some lawmakers want to go further.
The bill redefines dilation and evacuation as “dismemberment abortion” and outlaws it except when necessary to save a woman’s life or prevent irreversible damage to her physical health. Doctors could not use forceps, clamps, scissors or similar instruments on a fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces.
“Abortion is evil, and the procedure we’re discussing today is the ultimate evil,” said Rep. Mike Kiegerl, an Olathe Republican.
The national committee and Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group in the state, has pursued incremental restrictions each year because they fear sweeping attempts to limit abortion early in pregnancy would be challenged and overturned by the courts.
The Oklahoma House also has approved a ban on the procedure and its Senate is expected to debate it next week. Similar bills have been introduced in Missouri and South Carolina.
Balch said the measure could “transform” the debate over abortion by focusing attention on how a living fetus subjected to the procedure “dies just as a human adult or child would.”
Abortion-rights supporters said passing such a bill does nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies. They also said the procedure is sometimes the safest one and that the state should not interfere with medical decisions.
“I know a lot of you here don’t like the government very much, but you are the government,” said Rep. Boog Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat. “If you vote to pass the bill, it will be you who will cause the overreaching, taking away people’s liberty.”
Trust Women CEO Julie Burkhart said in a statement that the bill is designed to intimidate doctors.
“Policymakers should be ashamed that they are putting women’s lives at risk because they care more about politics than good health care,” she said in a statement.
Kansas already bans most abortions at or after the 22nd week of pregnancy. But other legislators said Wednesday they want to ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. One anti-abortion group, the Kansas Coalition for Life, is pushing a separate bill to ban suction abortions, which account for more than half of pregnancies terminated in Kansas.
Republican Rep. Randy Garber, of Sabetha, said he’ll vote for the current bill, but asked, “Is God happy with where we’re at, or does God say life begins at conception and should be protected?”
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