- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A bill in the Kansas Legislature that calls for banning a specific abortion procedure could end up establishing broader restrictions, abortion rights activists said Monday.

The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held a hearing on a bill that would ban the procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which is used in about 8 percent of Kansas abortion cases. The bill describes the procedure as dismembering a fetus.

Dr. Bruce Price, a native Kansan who is now a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, said in written testimony that he opposed a ban, saying the dilation and evacuation procedure is the safest way to terminate a pregnancy during the second trimester.

“If a physician’s medical latitude and judgment is hampered, it is the patient who will suffer the consequences,” he wrote.

Kansas already bans most abortions at or after the 22nd week of pregnancy, before the end of the second trimester. Price said in his testimony that physicians in some cases need to perform dilation and evacuation procedures for earlier abortions, meaning the bill could effectively prevent some first-trimester abortions.

But Dr. Anthony Levatino, who runs a gynecology clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico, testified via a Skype video call that he had performed such procedures about 100 times and banning it would not endanger women’s health. His testimony was similar to remarks he has made in favor of other abortion-restricting bills - in fact, large passages of the testimony were reproduced word-for-word from a testimony he made to a U.S. House panel in 2012.

Levatino said banning the procedure would not prevent earlier abortions, but eliminating the option of the dilation and evacuation procedure would “encourage” women to seek abortions earlier in their pregnancies.

“It’s a well-known fact that as abortion is performed later and later in pregnancy, the risk of that abortion increases,” he said. “Encouraging women to seek abortions at earlier stages of their pregnancy will seriously enhance safety and create fewer complications.”

Although cases in which the woman risked death would be exempted from the ban, the bill would not allow the procedure in cases where continuing the pregnancy would cause serious mental harm.

Julie Burkhart, CEO of the abortion rights advocacy group Trust Women Foundation, testified that the lack of such a provision was “unconstitutional,” and said the bill would end up costing the state more money due to legal challenges.

The Kansas attorney general’s office has spent more than $1 million on outside attorneys defending anti-abortion laws enacted since 2011.

Asked about the cost question, Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and committee chairwoman, said of abortion rights supporters, “I would tell them to stop filing lawsuits.”

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Online:

Information about anti-abortion bill: https://bit.ly/1K53VBL

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