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In Kansas, a National Campaign to Limit Abortion Keeps Creeping Forward

Kansas became the first state in nation to ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure, and national anti-abortion groups intend to replicate the law elsewhere.

by Colleen Curry
Apr 8 2015, 11:20pm

Photo by John Hanna/AP

A bill banning a common procedure in second-trimester abortions that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law on Tuesday is the latest in a series of bills restricting abortion that he has approved since taking office in 2011, and one of more than 200 such laws enacted around the country in the same timespan.

The new law will prohibit doctors in Kansas from using forceps, clamps, or other tools to remove a fetus's parts in a second-trimester abortion unless the woman's life is in danger. The method is known as "dilation and evacuation," but anti-abortion advocates call it "dismemberment abortion."

The Kansas law is titled, "The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act." Kansas is the first state to bar the procedure.

Eileen Hawley, a spokesperson for the governor, called it "a horrific procedure," according to the Associated Press. Brownback's office did not return calls for comment from VICE News.

Related: Texas and Other States are Using Red Tape to Close Abortion Clinics

The language of the law was drafted by the anti-abortion group the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), which applauded Brownback's signing and said that it hopes to see the law replicated in other states around the country. A similar bill is being debated today in the Oklahoma State Senate after being passed by the state House.

"We hope that it will be introduced in every state," Mary Spaulding Walsh, the NRLC's director of state legislation, told VICE News. "It's already been introduced in Missouri and South Carolina, and hopefully there will be more introduced in the next legislative session next year."

Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, are appalled.

"The Kansas governor and legislature should be ashamed of themselves for criminalizing healthcare — healthcare that women need that's part of their reproductive healthcare — and for intruding on the decisions that women are making on pregnancies and doctors are making for safe and compassionate and high-quality care," Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told VICE News.

The development follows a stream of legislative measures to curtail abortion in the state of Kansas.

"After the 2010 elections, Kansas took a very sharp turn to the right," Elizabeth Nash of the pro-life Guttmacher Institute told VICE News. "Between 2011 and now, they've adopted nearly every type of restriction you can imagine, from clinic requirements and admitting privileges to restricting abortion coverage in health plans."

The state has banned most private health plans from paying for abortions, mandated counseling for women considering an abortion, adopted a 22-week ban, increased parental notification and consent demands, and forced counseling sessions to include reference to the fetus as a human being and the suggestion that an abortion can lead to fetal pain and breast cancer, among other restrictions.

"The point is they've done just about everything in five years that you can think of," Nash said. "Some of the stuff they were doing are things we've seen in other states, but Kansas has become one of the states people look to to see what types of abortion restrictions are in play."

Some of the laws have been challenged or are being challenged in court, but Nash noted that most go unchallenged because it is difficult to find willing plaintiffs in a state that is so openly hostile to women and doctors who are pro-choice.

Related: Abortion Clinics Are Closing Because Their Doorways Aren't Big Enough

Though Kansas officials have positioned the state at the forefront of anti-abortion legislation, other states have also pushed for restrictive legislation in recent years, including Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, and Arkansas. Elections in 2010, in which conservative Republicans flipped control of 21 state legislative chambers and won complete control of 25 statehouses, reshaped the legislative landscape in America.

Even states that many people think of as politically centrist, including Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, and North and South Dakota, have all become more conservative on abortion, Nash said.

"A number of state legislatures, even if they were conservative, became much more conservative," she said. "We haven't seen pendulum swing back. "

Laws restricting abortion access that have won passage in various states have usually been the result of language drafted by national organizations including the NRLC and Americans United for Life.

"I can tell you that we worked with our affiliate Kansas for Life to pass this bill," Spaulding Walsh said. "We worked with them on the language of the legislation and we were pleased when it passed both houses by overwhelming majorities with bipartisan support, and we are pleased that the governor signed it yesterday."

Crepps doesn't think there is any evidence that voters of Kansas were calling for such a law, which she described as an intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship.

"On this particular bill the legislators adopted an agenda from a national organization," she said. "It's all part of an overall strategy to make abortion inaccessible for as many women as possible."

Crepps and Nash both said that the cumulative effect of the laws passed in Kansas in the past five years has made it incredibly difficult for a woman to get an abortion in the state — which is exactly what national anti-abortion organizations are hoping to achieve.

"The voices of the women being affected by all of this legislation are not being heard by the legislators," Crepps remarked. "They're following their own ideological agenda and not taking best interest of the women of Kansas into account."

Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen