The Kansas legislature is advancing an omnibus abortion bill that would, among other things, define life as beginning at conception in the state constitution and place unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers in the state. HB 2253 has already passed the House, and looks poised to gain enough support to sail through the Senate — but only after Republicans rejected several key amendments to soften the measure, including a provision to add exceptions for rape and incest to the state’s existing abortion restrictions. Top Republicans decried those provisions as “little gotcha amendments.”
Senators discussed the bill for more than two hours on Monday. There were several proposed amendments up for debate — a rape and incest exception, a provision ensuring that women won’t be prosecuted for using birth control even if the state officially redefines life with a “personhood” amendment, and a measure to remove HB 2253’s requirement that doctors tell women about a scientifically disputed link between abortion and breast cancer. All of them were rejected.
“These amendments are little gotcha amendments,” Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce (R) said during the floor debate. “I’m getting a little irritated at it.”
State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R) explained she opposed the rape and incest exception because it would apply not just to HB 2253, but also to the existing abortion laws in Kansas. That means it would extend an exception in the cases of rape and incest to current state restrictions banning most abortions after 22 weeks, preventing private health insurance from covering abortion services, and requiring doctors to obtain parental consent before performing an abortion for a minor. “This language would completely undo 10 to 20 years of abortion legislation,” Pilcher-Cook said.
In fact, such an amendment wouldn’t “undo” state-level abortion restrictions at all. Exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and preserving the life of the woman are still extremely narrow, and don’t change the fact that restrictions on reproductive care are still imposed on the majority of women. Those small exemptions have become somewhat of a national standard. The federal government, 32 states, and the District of Columbia all offer exceptions in the cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest in their bans on public funding for abortion. Americans also overwhelmingly support abortion access for victims of rape and incest.
But for Kansas Republicans, it’s too politically contentious to ensure, for instance, that a minor who has been sexually abused by a family member doesn’t have to seek parental consent to terminate a resulting pregnancy. “This is political hijinks,” Pilcher-Cook said. “We should be focused on the bill instead of trying to make political points.”