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Kansas governor signs bills limiting abortion

13 april 2011, 13:22
Sam Brownback. Photo courtesy of blogs.pitch.com
Sam Brownback. Photo courtesy of blogs.pitch.com
Sam Brownback, the conservative Republican governor of Kansas, signed tight restrictions on abortion into law Tuesday in the central US state, AFP reports.

While abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973, opponents have been whittling away at its availability by enacting local restrictions.

Brownback, who signed the bills at the state Capitol in Topeka, is a former US senator who was overwhelmingly elected in November 2010.

One of the Kansas measures, called the "fetal pain bill," forbids abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy unless the life of the mother is threatened. It is based on the argument that fetuses can feel pain from then on.

The second bill requires minors to obtain consent from both parents before getting an abortion, and requires doctors to provide state officials with more detailed records concerning abortions.

The restrictions are part of a nationwide wave of limits on abortion enacted at the state level by Republicans victorious in the fall elections.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America -- a group that advocates for abortion rights -- decried the Kansas measures as "extreme."

"Bans like this one could deny needed care to women with wanted pregnancies who experience heart-breaking complications such as a fetal anomaly," she said.

"This extreme bill is out of step with the values and priorities on Kansas voters."

Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, has been at the center of the nation's emotional debate over abortion for decades.

In 1991, thousands of abortion opponents traveled here and were arrested during sit-ins in front of abortion clinics.

In 2009, the city again made worldwide headlines when George Tiller, a doctor who ran one of those clinics, was shot to death by an anti-abortion activist.

On Thursday, as part of the deal worked out to end last week's budget crisis, the US Senate will vote on a proposal to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of abortions. The Senate is not expected to defund the family planning organization.

According to NARAL, measures to restrict abortion have passed or are under consideration in more than 30 of the 50 US states.

"The immediate cause, without any question, is the last election," said Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas.

"Across the country, you had about 700 (state) legislative seats move from Democrat to Republican. Almost all of those gains were made by people you could probably characterize as social conservatives."

Those social conservatives are interested in more than just abortion when it comes to drafting legislation, he said.

"You've got guns, you've got immigration. If they could legislate on creationism, they might," he said.

Republicans also made gains in governor's offices across the country in the November vote.

In Kansas, for instance, Brownback replaced Mark Parkinson, the former lieutenant governor who took office when fellow Democrat Kathleen Sebelius left to become health secretary under President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat.

Sebelius vetoed anti-abortion legislation when she was governor. "I think as soon as the (2010) election results came in, everybody just assumed there would be restrictive abortion bills passed and signed by the governor," Loomis said.

Mark Gietzen, head of the anti-abortion Kansas Coalition For Life, said he was "happy with the progress we're making," but disappointed that two further proposed restrictions appear doomed, at least for now.

Gietzen said anti-abortion forces will be closely monitoring how members of Congress vote Thursday on the Planned Parenthood issue.

"We want to force a recorded vote so we know exactly who to vote for and who not to vote for," Gietzen said.

Mel Kahn, a political science professor at Wichita State University, said polls show that a majority of Americans support restrictions on abortions.

Unless the US Supreme Court reverses itself and decides abortion is not a right, Kahn said, "the actual politics favor those people who are pro-life."

By Joe Stumpe

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