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Kan. Senate moves against sex-selection abortions

Published on -2/20/2013, 6:34 AM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- The Kansas Senate gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill prohibiting doctors from terminating a pregnancy solely because a woman doesn't want a baby of a certain gender, with supporters brushing aside criticism that the measure didn't give providers enough protection against false accusations.

The Senate's voice vote advanced the measure to another, final vote Wednesday, when members are expected to approve it and send it to the House. Both chambers have solid anti-abortion majorities, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback also is a strong abortion opponent.

The bill makes it a misdemeanor the first time a doctor is convicted of performing a sex-selection abortion and a felony each time afterward. A woman's husband could sue a doctor over such a procedure, as could a parent or guardian of a girl under 18 who had one. But the measure says that women who have such abortions can't be prosecuted.

There's no solid data on how many sex-selection abortions are performed in Kansas. Abortion rights supporters contend there's no evidence of them, but abortion foes believe it's a growing problem because of more sophisticated prenatal testing. Supporters of the bill also have said such abortions almost always occur because a woman, her husband or her family doesn't want a girl.

"Who protects them?" said Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, a Grinnell Republican who supports the bill. "The unborn have nobody if we won't protect them."

The bill is one of several measures backed by the influential anti-abortion group Kansans for Life. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee planned to have a hearing Wednesday on a bill designed to prevent the state from subsidizing abortions indirectly through tax exemptions or credits.

Abortion rights supporters didn't testify against the sex-selection ban when a Senate committee considered it, and their allies in the Senate emphasized during Tuesday's debate that they oppose such procedures.

Instead, senators who support abortion rights questioned whether abortion providers would be adequately protected from false accusations of performing gender-selection abortions. Senators rejected two amendments to address the issue, one creating special penalties for people making false accusations and another requiring claims that a doctor knowingly performed a sex-selection abortion be supported by written documentation.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said abortion opponents seemed "reluctant" to protect abortion providers from false accusations.

"Is there some reason for that?" Kelly asked.

But Sen. Garrett Love, a Montezuma Republican who supports the bill, said the courts would vet such claims anyway.

"The providers' protection is the courts, the rule of law," Love said.

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