Analysis Abortion

The “Rubber Stamp Attack:” Speaking Truth to Power Against the Latest Sweeping Abortion Restrictions in Kansas

Kari Ann Rinker

This week, the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee heard the largest, most expansive abortion restriction bill in the nation.  HB 2598 is a 68-page piece of legislation, that manages to cobble together many of the most extreme restrictions from abortion legislation currently under litigation in three other states. And yet when I stood up to oppose it, far-right legislators claimed I "went too far."

This week, the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee heard the largest, most expansive abortion restriction bill in the nation.  HB 2598 is a 68-page piece of legislation, that manages to cobble together many of the most extreme restrictions from abortion legislation currently under litigation in three other states.  It would require a physician to inform women who seek an abortion about a non-existent link between breast cancer and abortion, would require that an audible Doppler ultrasound of the heartbeat be played for the woman prior to an abortion procedure, and prohibits  “wrongful life” and “wrongful birth” civil causes of action to be brought in the state of Kansas.  These three components are currently being litigated in South Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma, respectfully. 

Kansans for Life presented their “star witness” to testify in favor of the abortion-breast cancer link.  Angela Lanfranchi, M.D. from The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute.  She stood in front of the committee and presented a slide show based upon one independent, 25 year old, non-peer reviewed study to refute information by the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization (among others).  Representative Sean Gatewood (D) asked why the committee should toss aside the findings of these reputable sources and Ms. Lanfranchi chalked it all up to a vast “abortion conspiracy much like what was found when tobacco was protected by the NCI years ago.” 

HB 2598 also prohibits schools, their employees, volunteers and educational service providers from providing abortion services.  This is at its most obvious, an attack on Planned Parenthood and their age-appropriate human sexuality programs that are brought into schools and other community venues.  It would have the added consequence of prohibiting people who provide abortions, or who work at abortion providers from volunteering in their children’s schools. 

HB 2598 also has a section that effects Kansas tax code.  It would eliminate deferred maintenance tax credits for institutions, would prohibit the use of tax credits and tax exemptions for any “abortion riders” that an employer or individual may wish to purchase, now that abortion can no longer legally be covered on health insurance plans within the state.  The deferred maintenance elimination is a particularly heinous component, in that the Kansas University School of Medicine would be prevented from teaching abortion procedures, thus losing accreditation.  Representative Judy Loganbill (D) asked Representative Lance Kinzer (R) (the author of the bill) about this provision.  Representative Kinzer responded by stating that he “thinks” physicians could train someone how to do an abortion “without really doing an abortion”. 

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Five abortion bills passed in Kansas last session, three of which are in litigation.  So other than sit back and wait to hope that the courts can save the rights and lives of women, what can be done? 

The committee process has deteriorated over the years.  There was a deep and abiding hatred for Dr. George Tiller among members of the legislature.  The assassination of Dr. Tiller did not cause that hatred to disappear.  The obsession with abortion has not gone away, as it is far too valuable as a political tool.  So the fear continues to be legislatively promulgated, the rights of Kansas women continue to be destroyed. 

The pro-choice women who serve in the Kansas Legislature are unsung She-Roes.   Representative Judy Loganbill since 2001 has stood often on the House floor, often as a lone voice standing in defense of piece after piece of abortion legislation.  In 2010, Republican Representative Barbara Bollier joined Representative Loganbill as strident voice for choice on the Kansas House floor.   Their voices are vital to the cause, but we need an army of women like them, and we stand many soldiers short. 

So, how does a women’s reproductive rights advocate work within this establishment as it currently exists?  We can stand before them, present all of the facts, try to encourage the legislative committees to consider science and not manufactured pseudo-science and withstand the barrage of ideologically driven, irrelevant line of questioning, thank them and then proceed home to lick our wounds and mourn our losses…or we can step outside of “protocol,” challenge the norms and speak truth to power with every ounce of energy we have.  This week, I choose the latter.  I took a risk and I challenged the process itself, rather than focusing on the details of the latest and greatest legislative attack.  I used a visual aid and I really, really ticked some people off.

The “rubber stamp attack” as one headline dubbed it, consisted of words…and one lone office supply. It caused astonishment and amazement and was considered by the committee as an affront to their sensibilities. Representative Rubin (R) stormed out of the committee room. 

These are the same public servants who willfully sat and swallowed the “science” of fetal pain and dismissed stories such as Tiffany Campbell’s and Danielle Deaver’s, then refused to allow an amendment to protect for fatal fetal anomalies and Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. These public servants will listen to days of testimony about the “breast cancer/abortion link” and listen to fetal testing, such as amniocentesis, be described as “seek and destroy missions” by proponents.  And yet….these public servants were offended by the testimony of one pro-choice citizen, who was there to give voice to a frustration felt by many, who feel that they have lost their voices in this process.  Perhaps I did “Go too far,” but they heard the message, which is more than what would have occurred on any other given day in that committee.

There is indeed power in the truth and a little honest to goodness “speaking truth to power” can be a powerful weapon in playing defense in this war on women. 

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