Kansas lawmakers avoiding big abortion debate

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm •  Published: April 3, 2014
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Top Republican legislators are blocking a debate in Kansas on banning most abortions early in pregnancy while engineering passage of a bill sought by abortion opponents to make technical changes in anti-abortion laws.

The Legislature has strong GOP and anti-abortion majorities in each chamber. After a wave of new restrictions in recent years, the handling of the issue this year reflects a split among abortion opponents over tactics for further limiting the termination of pregnancies. Some anti-abortion lawmakers favor banning most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, sometimes as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

Republican leaders so far are following the lead of Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, which fears that enacting such a law would lead to court rulings not only striking down such a ban but eliminating restrictions already in place. Yet abortion opponents also want to make technical changes in existing restrictions to address legal issues raised in state and federal lawsuits filed by abortion providers.

The Senate passed a bill this week to make the technical fixes. But key legislators are taking unusual steps to shepherd the changes through the House while preventing anti-abortion members from bringing up the fetal heartbeat proposal.

"Yes, it's frustrating, but I wouldn't call it foolish," Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who supports the fetal heartbeat measure, said Thursday. "It's probably pretty smart."

A separate but identical bill making the technical fixes cleared a House committee in February, but the chamber's Republican leaders have refused to schedule a debate on it.

"We're just being cautious," said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican, said he "absolutely" would offer a fetal heartbeat proposal as an amendment during a debate and predicted it would pass.

"That's why they have to keep the lid tight," he said.

Key Republicans found a way out of the dilemma through an obscure bill revising laws regulating professionals such as architects and engineers that has passed both chambers in different forms. House and Senate negotiators on that bill agreed Wednesday to strip out its contents and insert the technical changes in anti-abortion laws.