Kansas lawmakers avoiding big abortion debate

4/3/2014

TOPEKA (AP) — Top Republican legislators are blocking a debate in Kansas on banning most abortions early in pregnancy while engineering passage of a bill sought by abortion opponents to make technical changes in anti-abortion laws.

TOPEKA (AP) — Top Republican legislators are blocking a debate in Kansas on banning most abortions early in pregnancy while engineering passage of a bill sought by abortion opponents to make technical changes in anti-abortion laws.

The Legislature has strong GOP and anti-abortion majorities in each chamber. After a wave of new restrictions in recent years, the handling of the issue this year reflects a split among abortion opponents over tactics for further limiting the termination of pregnancies. Some anti-abortion lawmakers favor banning most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, sometimes as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

Republican leaders so far are following the lead of Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, which fears that enacting such a law would lead to court rulings not only striking down such a ban but eliminating restrictions already in place. Yet abortion opponents also want to make technical changes in existing restrictions to address legal issues raised in state and federal lawsuits.

The Senate passed a bill this week to make the technical fixes. But key legislators are taking unusual steps to shepherd the changes through the House while preventing anti-abortion members from bringing up the fetal heartbeat proposal.

"Yes, it's frustrating, but I wouldn't call it foolish," Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who supports the fetal heartbeat measure, said Thursday. "It's probably pretty smart."

A separate but identical bill making the technical fixes cleared a House committee in February, but the chamber's Republican leaders have refused to schedule a debate on it.

"We're just being cautious," said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican, said he "absolutely" would offer a fetal heartbeat proposal as an amendment during a debate and predicted it would pass.

"That's why they have to keep the lid tight," he said.

Key Republicans found a way out of the dilemma through an obscure bill revising laws regulating professionals such as architects and engineers that has passed both chambers in different forms. House and Senate negotiators on that bill agreed Wednesday to strip out its contents and insert the technical changes in anti-abortion laws.

Both chambers could vote on the measure yet this week. It would revise a requirement that the home pages of abortion providers' websites link to a state website about pregnancy and fetal development so providers would no longer have to say that the state's information is accurate and objective. It also rewrites Kansas laws on medical emergencies in which abortion restrictions are waived.

The changes are technical enough that abortion provider Planned Parenthood has remained neutral.

Under the Legislature's rules, House-Senate negotiators' work faces only up-or-down votes to determine whether it goes to Gov. Sam Brownback. No amendments are allowed — blocking a fetal heartbeat proposal.

Planned Parenthood lobbyist Elise Higgins said abortion opponents are choosing between technical fixes to address "an overreach" in existing laws and "radical" proposals like the fetal-heartbeat measure.

"It's an indication of how far the anti-women's health movement in Kansas has progressed," she said.

Arkansas last year banned most abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy, and North Dakota barred them as early as the sixth week. Federal judges blocked enforcement of both.

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Online:

Technical changes in anti-abortion laws: http://bit.ly/1kvmMIN

Fetal heartbeat proposal: http://bit.ly/164g2KL

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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