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Kansas Senate Panel Approves Bill To Ban Abortion Method

A bill to ban a certain type of abortion passed a committee in the Kansas Senate on Thursday. KMUW's Aileen LeBlanc reports...

A proposed ban on a procedure used in about 8 percent of the abortions in Kansas cleared its first major state legislative hurdle Thursday, and abortion providers already are contemplating potential lawsuits.

The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill banning a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, defining it in state law as "dismemberment abortion." The committee's voice vote came after a brief discussion and sends the measure to the Senate for debate.

The measure is part of a long-running strategy by Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, to seek incremental restrictions on abortion and providers, believing they'll withstand legal challenges. It was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee as model legislation, and similar proposals are pending in Missouri and Oklahoma.

Kansas bans most abortions at the 22nd week of pregnancy, but the bill could prohibit some earlier abortions — possibly in the first trimester, according to abortion-rights advocates.

The bill prohibits the use of clamps, forceps, tongs, scissors or other similar instruments on a fetus so it can be removed from the womb in pieces. The measure would make an exception if the procedure were necessary to save a woman's life or prevent serious, irreversible harm to her physical health.

"It's a matter of just bringing the public up to speed," said Kathy Ostrowski, Kansans for Life's legislative director. "There are some lines we shouldn't cross — it makes us barbarians. This is one of those lines."

Abortion-rights advocates say the targeted procedure is sometimes the safest for terminating a pregnancy and the bill is designed to limit access to abortion further. In 2013, the latest year for which data is available from the state health department, the procedure was used in about 600 of the nearly 7,500 abortions in Kansas.

"It substitutes the will of politicians for the expertise of doctors," said Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which provides abortions at an Overland Park clinic. "It'll harm Kansas women."

Higgins and Julie Burkhart, co-founder of the Trust Women Foundation, which operates a clinic performing abortions in Wichita, said their groups' attorneys are examining the measure.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office has spent nearly $1.2 million on outside legal help to defend anti-abortion laws enacted since January 2011. The state has prevailed in all but one of the lawsuits, a state-court case challenging special regulations for providers that's still pending.

Burkhart said one legal issue with this year's bill is the lack of a mental health exception to the ban. Ostrowski said Kansans for Life is confident the law would withstand a challenge, based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions.