Kansas Just Outlawed a Common Abortion Procedure — and More States Could Follow


On Tuesday, surrounded by anti-abortion leaders and prominently displayed photos of fetuses, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed the "Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act." The graphically titled law, which goes into effect on July 1, will effectively ban a procedure most commonly used in second-trimester abortions.

Generally known as dilation and evacuation, the procedure "is seen by many doctors as the safest and most convenient technique for most women," the New York Times reported. The bill, however, uses the term "dismemberment abortion" instead of dilation and evacuation. (The technique involves dilating a woman's cervix and removing pieces of tissue in the uterus with forceps.) 

While some pro-abortion rights advocates see as using explicit language to color the debate, abortion opponents argue that the public should be aware of what an abortion actually involves. A term like "dismemberment abortion," they say, helps with this. 

Though nearly 90% of abortions in the United States are performed in the first trimester, second-trimester abortions are overwhelmingly done using the dilation and evacuation method. According to the New York Times, up to 9% of abortions in Kansas may be curbed thanks to the new law.

John Hanna/AP

The Huffington Post reports that abortions in Kansas are currently lawful up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy; the new law could now effectively ban abortions at just 14 weeks. Abortion rights supporters decried the law in part because it would force abortion providers to perform methods that are less safe. 

"We call it the 'physician intimidation and criminalization act,'"Julie Burkhart, the chief executive of the Trust Women Foundation and the South Wind Women's Center, told the New York Times. "This is unconstitutional." She added that her group will likely contest the law in court.

More of the same. Across the country, states are proposing bills that limit a woman's access to abortion. Some, like Kansas' new measure, don't even make exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that works to extend reproductive rights, states such as Oklahoma, Missouri and South Carolina currently have draft measures pending that would severely restrict later-term abortions. Like Kansas, abortion foes in these states are using colorful language to get the bills passed — a method some see as a dangerous new tactic in the abortion rights debate.

Besides second- and third-trimester abortions, however, some states are also waging wars on access to abortion early in a woman's pregnancy. In Arkansas, for example, Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently signed a law banning telemedicine abortion, which is typically used early in a pregnancy. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter approved a similar ban on Monday.

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The Supreme Court and abortion: In its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, the Supreme Court declared that a woman must have access to abortion services until the fetus is "viable" — in other words, until it can live outside a woman's womb with or without artificial aid.

However, the court was less clear about late-term abortions, and ruled that individual states have more power in these instances. Only eight states plus Washington, D.C., allow a woman to obtain an abortion at any point in her pregnancy; 10 states, on the other hand, have laws limiting abortion at 18 or 20 weeks.

Thanks to the Court's 2007 ruling on so-called "partial birth" abortions, which upheld President George W. Bush's 2003 ban on the procedure used to terminate midterm pregnancies, abortion opponents have crept farther and farther into the realm of a woman's right to choose, both early and later in her pregnancy. 

Kansas may be merely the latest state to extend these efforts, but anti-abortion advocates are hopeful that it will set a precedent. 

"The Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act is the first of what we hope will be many state laws banning dismemberment abortions, said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, according to the New York Times. "This law has the power to transform the landscape of abortion policy in the United States."