Abortions declined last year in Kansas by about 5.4 percent and dropped to their lowest number in 25 years, the state Department of Health and Environment reported Friday.
Advocates on both sides of the debate said the decrease can be tied to the Legislature's ongoing approval of tougher abortion restrictions, including multiple new laws enacted since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent, took office in January 2011.
None of the new restrictions — or additional proposals being considered this year by legislators — is as tough as a new North Dakota law banning most abortions as early as 6 weeks. But Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, has urged lawmakers to avoid headline-grabbing measures likely to be challenged in court in favor of incremental changes.
Kansans for Life Executive Director Mary Kay Culp said the decline in abortions last year shows the approach advocated by the group is working.
The health department wouldn't speculate on why abortions continue to decline. Culp said she believes other important factors in the decline are the work of dozens of pregnancy crisis centers and the state health department posting detailed information about fetal development on its website.
"That is good news for women and unborn babies," Culp said.
The health department said doctors reported 7,457 abortions last year, or 428 fewer than the 7,885 terminated pregnancies reported in 2011. The number hasn't been that low since 1987, when doctors reported 6,409 abortions — and that was before a 1995 mandate that physicians and medical facilities report each time they terminate a pregnancy.
Abortions peaked at 12,422 in 2001 and have declined 40 percent since.
Elise Higgins, lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, pointed to a requirement that women wait 24 hours after consulting a physician to obtain an abortion and a law enacted in 2011 restricting private health insurance coverage for elective abortions. She said Kansas now has a political environment "really hostile" to abortion rights.
"What's decreased is women's ability to get the health care they need," Higgins said.
Culp cited changes in the state's "informed consent" law, directing doctors to provide certain information to patients before performing abortions, and a requirement enacted in 2011 that doctors get written consent from parents or guardians before a minor can have an abortion.
The state Senate plans to debate a bill Monday that blocks tax breaks for abortion providers and patients, prohibits abortion providers from supplying materials or instructors for public schools' sex education classes, spells out in greater detail what information doctors must provide to patients and declares that life begins "at fertilization" and is worth protecting.
The House has approved the measure and if senators make no changes, it will go to Brownback.
What's still being debated is how much the drop in abortions can be attributed to the May 2009 murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller by a man professing strong anti-abortion views. Tiller's clinic in Wichita was among a few in the U.S. known to specialize in late-term abortions; it has remained closed after his death.
In 2008, Kansas doctors reported 10,643 abortions, and the following year, the figure was 11 percent lower, at 9,474. It declined again in 2010 by 12 percent, to 8,373.
But abortion opponents note fewer procedures were being done before Tiller's death.