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Kansas Abortion Bill Opponents Prepare For Comeback

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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says he'll sign any anti-abortion legislation that reaches his desk.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says he'll sign any anti-abortion legislation that reaches his desk.

With the introduction of strict new anti-abortion bills nearing in Topeka, Kan., pro-abortion rights college students descended on the state capitol Monday to organize the opposition.

A group of 30 students from colleges across Kansas spent Monday lobbying both parties in an attempt to ward off what may three abortion laws, including a sweeping bill defeated last year that would allow doctors to withhold medical information from patients they believe may cause them to seek an abortion. In addition, legislators have been discussing the introduction of personhood and fetal heartbeat bills.

"Both contraception access for us and health care access" are salient issues for students and others who don't have a lot of money, Emma Halling, a University of Kansas student who joined the group organized by Choice USA on Monday, told The Huffington Post. Halling said she and other students are waiting for reintroduction of last year's bill that mobilized pro-abortion rights activists in the state. The bill, pushed by state Rep. Lance Kinzer (R-Olathe), included provisions to allow for doctors to withhold medical information, require doctors to inform women that abortions increase the risk for breast cancer, stop tax deductions for abortions, possibly impose a sales tax on abortion, ban state employees from performing abortions during the workday, and personhood. The bill would also prohibit women from filing malpractice suits against doctors who withhold information in the event that the woman had medical complications. A wrongful death suit could be filed if the woman dies.

Kansas legislators said they expect the bill to be introduced within weeks. Kinzer did not return messages for comment. Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), a retired physician who helped lead the fight against last year's bill, said the personhood provision likely would be placed in a separate bill, along with a new measure to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

Bollier said she expects to work to block the new legislation. She said she opposes any measure that would inject government between the doctor and patient. She also noted that House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) has said he doesn't want social issues to dominate the legislative session. Merrick confirmed that, saying he wants to focus on fiscal issues.

The abortion legislation has a better shot of passing this year. The state Senate, which blocked its passage last year, became more conservative following the 2012 election. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has told HuffPost that he will sign any anti-abortion bill that reaches his desk. Moderates have warned that Brownback and his allies, including the Wichita-based Koch brothers, want to turn the state into an "ultraconservative utopia."

Halling said she and her allies are looking to educate legislators about the legislation's details, including the state employee ban, which has led to concerns about the University of Kansas medical school losing accreditation.

"The numbers are not on our side, so we are looking at the problematic clauses," Halling said. "Bringing attention to the problematic concepts, use that as a roadblock."

Not all conservative Republicans agree that the entire series of abortion bills will get votes. State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told HuffPost that he would rather the personhood and fetal heartbeat bills be delayed, for the good of the entire anti-abortion movement.

"I'm personally not going to back those issues, the personhood and fetal heartbeat in this sessions," Claeys said. "It can be damaging to the cause, having those struck down in court."

Claeys, who serves on the committee that handles abortion issues, said he is willing to consider the larger bill, noting that the goal should be to prevent abortions in Kansas. He said that while the focus should be on economic and tax issues, that other issues can come up.

"Let's not pretend that every waking moment up here is occupied by extremely important economic legslation and we can't focus on other issues," Claeys said.

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