The Kansas House approved legislation Wednesday to prevent abortion providers from claiming tax breaks or assisting with public school sex education classes, and Senate leaders promised their chamber will consider it quickly.
The vote in the Republican-dominated House was 92-31. Most members of the GOP-controlled Senate support new restrictions on providers, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is a strong abortion opponent.
The bill is less restrictive than a measure approved by North Dakota legislators this month that would ban abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and a new Arkansas law prohibiting most abortions after the 12th week. But abortion-rights advocates still see it as a major threat to access to abortion services.
The bill also includes policy statements that each human life begins "at fertilization" and that "unborn children have interests in life, health and well-being that should be protected."
"While that won't save any babies today or tomorrow or the day after this bill is hopefully signed, what it will do, I hope, is help set the context on more substantive restrictions in the future," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and anti-abortion leader, said during debate on the bill.
Legislators hope to wrap up most of their business for the year by April 5, giving the Senate relatively little time to consider the measure. But Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook noted that most of the provisions have been discussed previously.
"We'll get it done," said Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican.
The bill also strengthens provisions in Kansas law designed to prevent doctors-in-training at the state's medical school from performing abortions with state resources or on the state's time. The measure revises a long-standing "informed consent" law requiring doctors to give women certain information before terminating their pregnancies, spelling out what must be provided in greater detail.
House members overwhelmingly rejected a proposal Tuesday to add an exception covering rape and incest victims to the state's restrictions on abortion, including its ban on most abortions starting with the 22nd week.
The provisions in the bill dealing with tax breaks are designed to prevent the state from subsidizing abortions even indirectly. For example, a woman who had an abortion couldn't include the costs if she deducts medical expenses from her income for tax purposes, and an abortion provider could not claim the same exemption from the state sales tax on what it purchases that other health care providers receive.
Also, expenses associated with performing abortions couldn't be included by abortion providers who seek income tax credits for research or development or for the community service they provide.
"I haven't heard any testimony from anybody indicating that they're actually taking these tax credits and would be harmed in some way, but it is, I think, a protective measure," Kinzer said.
The bill prohibits abortion providers from providing materials and instructors for public schools' sex education classes, state officials have said they're not aware of examples. Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions at its Johnson County clinic, offers materials and instructors when invited but doesn't track how often schools ask.
Supporters said the legislation lessens the state's entanglement in a procedure that many residents find objectionable. Planned Parenthood and other abortion right groups said in a joint statement that the bill has "nothing to do with medicine" and creates "more obstacles between women and needed health care."
"No matter how many roadblocks are placed in their way, desperate women will do desperate things and make desperate decisions," said Rep. Patricia Sloop, a freshman Wichita Democrat and a social worker. "No matter how many laws are passed, you will never be able to stop abortions."
The anti-abortion legislation is HB 2253.