TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion opponents urged a Kansas Senate committee Monday to endorse a bill that would prohibit doctors from terminating a pregnancy solely because a woman doesn't want a baby of a certain gender, marking the start of a push for additional restrictions in a state that's already tightened its laws significantly.
The measure before the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee would make it a misdemeanor the first time a doctor is convicted of performing a sex-selection abortion and a felony each time afterward. A woman's husband could sue a doctor over such a procedure, as could a parent or guardian of a girl under 18 who had one.
Both chambers have solid anti-abortion majorities, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is a strong abortion opponent, making it likely that the measure will become law. Supporters of the bill believe there's widespread public support for a ban, and no abortion rights groups testified against it — though they see it as part of a broader effort to limit access.
The committee expects to vote on the measure in the next few weeks as other committees consider additional measures backed by the influential anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.
There's no solid data on how many sex-selection abortions are performed in Kansas. Abortion rights supporters contend there's no evidence of them. But abortion foes believe it's a growing problem because of more sophisticated prenatal testing.
Backers of the bill also said that such abortions almost always occur because a woman, her husband or her family doesn't want a girl.
Steven Mosher, president of the anti-abortion Population Research Institute, based in northern Virginia, said sex-selection abortions represent "the worst form of discrimination possible."
"It's a discrimination that kills," Mosher told reporters. "Men and women here are fundamentally equal and simply being the wrong gender is not grounds for being eliminated."
The Kansas legislation is modeled on bans in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Arizona. It says a woman or girl who has a sex-selection abortion cannot be prosecuted, but the doctor could face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 upon a first conviction.
A 2008 study by two Columbia University economists suggested that the practice of aborting female fetuses — widespread in some nations where parents traditionally prefer sons — is done in the U.S. on a limited basis. The economists analyzed the gender of U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean and Asian Indian parents and found that the odds of having a boy increased if the family already had a girl or two.
Kansans for Life cited the study in its testimony on the bill, quoting the study's conclusion that the numbers are "evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage."
But Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, called a ban on sex-selection abortions "nearly impossible to enforce" and said abortion rights supporters didn't testify against it partly because they view other measures as more serious threats to reproductive health care access.
"The stated aim of this legislation is to ban sex-selective abortions, but its effects will only be to limit women's decision making capabilities and criminalize health providers," NOW said in a statement.
Since Brownback became governor in January 2011, Kansas has restricted private health insurance coverage for abortions, tightened limits on late-term abortions and strengthened requirements for doctors to notify a parent or guardian when a minor seeks an abortion.
The state also has imposed health and safety regulations specifically for abortion clinics, though a lawsuit has prevented their enforcement.
This year, Kansans for Life wants to strengthen the state's "informed consent" law directing physicians to give patients certain information before performing an abortion and to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren't used to finance abortions even indirectly through tax credits or exemptions.
Sex-selection abortion ban is SB 141. Informed consent, taxpayer funding measures are contained in HB 2253.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
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