By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World
Abortion rights supporters on Tuesday pleaded with Gov. Sam Brownback to veto proposed abortion restrictions approved by the Legislature, saying the bills will endanger women's health.
As they delivered petitions with 1,600 signatures, they warned that a declaration in one bill that human life "begins at fertilization" and that unborn children have interests that should be protected will pave the way for more obstacles to safe abortions.
"That preamble language is dangerous," said Holly Weatherford of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri.
Weatherford noted that the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has already cited the life begins at fertilization stance as an opportunity for further restrictions.
Operation Rescue said the bill could be used for lawsuits by parents or grandparents who want to block abortions or to have law enforcement scrutinize clinics.
"For me this is just delightful, Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said recently. "It opens up so many avenues."
Despite the petition from abortion rights groups, Brownback, an ardent opponent of abortion, will likely sign the bills into law.
In addition to declaring when life begins, House Bill 2253 is a wide-ranging proposal that blocks tax breaks for abortion providers and tax deductions for medical expenses for an abortion.
The bill also requires that physicians provide women information about breast cancer as a potential risk of abortion. The National Cancer Institute has concluded that abortion doesn’t increase the risk of cancer.
And the measure includes a ban on sex-selection abortions, even though no evidence has been presented that this happens in Kansas.
Brownback also has on his desk Senate Bill 142, which would prevent parents of a child born with birth defects from suing their doctor under a “wrongful birth” claim.
Kansans for Life described the bill as “civil rights for the unborn,” but abortion rights advocates said the proposal would allow a doctor to not tell a woman that her fetus has a severe defect because of the doctor’s concern over a potential abortion.
At a news conference, Elise Higgins, of the Kansas National Organization for Women, said the bills intrude on the doctor-patient relationship and put government in charge of decisions best left to women and their families.
"Politicians are not doctors and they should not pretend to be," Higgins said. "Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision. You cannot make that decision for someone else."
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said HB 2253 was rushed through the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee in one day. That led to mistakes in the measure, she said.
"We shouldn't have the Public Health Committee writing tax code," she said.
When Francisco and others in the Senate tried to amend the bill on the floor of the Senate to make exemptions for victims of rape and incest, supporters of the bill accused her of trying to run "gotcha" amendments.
Francisco said she was trying to ensure that people in dire situations weren't being punished.
Rev. Joshua Longbottom, associate pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence, said he has provided pastoral care to women facing difficult decisions about their pregnancies.
"I believe these women are the best moral agents for making those decisions without government intrusion," Longbottom said. He added, "The more difficult that abortions become, the more young women's lives will be put in danger."
Haley Miller, a senior at Kansas University and representing the KU Commission on the Status of Women, criticized the "wrongful birth" proposal. "A woman has a right to know the truth about her pregnancy," she said.
And Gail James, representing the Mainstream Coalition, said, "These bills are really about politics; they are not about medicine."
James said many women are upset with Brownback's policies on abortion. "Gov. Brownback please pay attention. The women of Kansas are paying attention," she said.