Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is calling lawmakers back for a special session so they can rewrite the state’s “Hard 50” sentencing law — which allows convicted murderers to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years — now that a recent Supreme Court decision has brought its constitutionality into question. But abortion opponents in the state are planning to seize the opportunity to focus on issues other than criminal justice. One of Kansas’ leading anti-choice groups hopes to push for a radical six-week abortion ban during the extra legislative session.
The Kansas Coalition for Life’s president, Mark Gietzen, told a local outlet he believes there’s enough support in the legislature to pass a “fetal heartbeat” bill. That type of measure would outlaw the procedure as soon as a fetal heartbeat can first be detected, which often occurs as early as six weeks — before many women even realize they’re pregnant. A heatbeat ban would serve to virtually ban abortion in the state.
“We just ran out of time in the 2013 session, we didn’t run out of votes,” Gietzen said. “We would like to pick up where we left off.”
Kansas already has multiple stringent abortion restrictions on the books. The state enacted several harsh anti-abortion laws in 2011 that cost $800,000 to defend in court last year, and the legislature passed yet another package of restrictions this past session that will rack up an additional $500,000 in court fees. But if Gietzen’s group is successful, Kansas will need even more funds for its court battles. After North Dakota became the first state in the country to successfully enact a six-week abortion ban, a federal judge blocked the law for overstepping Roe v. Wade.
Texas Republicans — who recently took advantage of their own special session to push through controversial abortion restrictions — also filed a fetal heartbeat bill this month. Six-week abortion bans have gained momentum over the past year as abortion opponents have increasingly pushed for more stringent restrictions, although they typically have trouble gaining widespread support even among the anti-choice community. A similar measure divided Republicans in Ohio in 2012.
Kansas lawmakers may take up any issue in the special session as long as it is introduced as a new bill, so it’s certainly possible that Gietzen will have his way and a fetal heartbeat ban will be up for consideration. However, some GOP legislators — who may finally be growing wary of spending taxpayer dollars on anti-abortion initiatives — are indicating they would prefer to limit the session’s focus to the criminal justice measure. “It’s expensive to have a special session. I’m all in favor of saving the taxpayers dollars and getting this over with,” House Speaker Ray Merrick (R) pointed out.