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Kansas Becomes First State To Ban Second Trimester Abortion Procedure


Last week, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act. It bans a common second trimester procedure. Those who oppose abortion see this new graphically-titled law as another tactic to limit abortion. NPR's Eleanor Klibanoff has more.

ELEANOR KLIBANOFF, BYLINE: When states pass laws limiting abortions, they usually put restrictions on women who want them or on clinics that perform them. But the anti-abortion movement has had limited success trying to ban abortion procedures, until last week, when Kansas was the first to ban the most common second trimester procedure, dilation and evacuation. Laura McQuade, who heads Planned Parenthood here in Kansas, finds this alarming.

LAURA MCQUADE: The D and E procedure is endorsed as the safest method for second trimester abortion. And for Kansas politicians to think that is in their purview to override that kind of medical science is just astonishing.

KLIBANOFF: But while Planned Parenthood was working on the medical angle, a group called Kansans for Life was winning in the court of public opinion. Kathy Ostrowski, the group's legislative director, says the new law embraces the term dismemberment abortion.

KATHY OSTROWSKI: A doctor wouldn't say, we're going to disarticulate your limb. He's going to say, we're going to have to break this bone and reset it. When you're examining these kinds of procedures, it's important not to obscure it with terminology the public can't understand.

KLIBANOFF: Only one other medically-sound abortion procedure has been banned in this country - intact dilation and extraction, or D and Ex, was banned by Congress in 2003, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court four years later. But just like D and E, this one got another name too.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What happens to mostly-born babies in a partial-birth abortion is shocking. Me, I would never perform one.

KLIBANOFF: That ad, by the National Right to Life Committee, was the mildest in a series of commercials that aired in the late 1990s. David Garrow, who teaches law and studies abortion policy at the University of Pittsburgh, says the harsh language is intentional.

DAVID GARROW: The quite correct realization that abortion opponents had was that they could only successfully attack abortion rights at the margin, not head-on.

KLIBANOFF: But where partial-birth was a rarely-used procedure, D and E is not. And Laura McQuade of Planned Parenthood says it's typically done much earlier.

MCQUADE: It is clearly pre-viability. The constitutional standard still says viability.

KLIBANOFF: McQuade and Ostrowski likely don't agree on much, but on this issue, they each feel that the Supreme Court is on their side. Ostrowski says many the justices, including abortion-rights supporter Ruth Bader Ginsburg, did bring up D and E during the partial-birth abortion debate. But David Garrow says we don't know their intent.

GARROW: If this goes forward, that would leave no alternative, because D and E was the alternative.

KLIBANOFF: In Kansas, Planned Parenthood is working with the state's other two abortion providers to consider legal action.

MCQUADE: It's really important that we get this right. Kansas is a bellwether state. These laws, once they're introduced, tend to repeat themselves.

KLIBANOFF: Eleanor Klibanoff, NPR News, Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.