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‘At Fertilization’ Phrase Gives Pause

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, right, a Stilwell Republican, watches the chamber's electronic tally board as it approves a sweeping anti-abortion bill, Friday, April 5, 2013, at the Statehouse, in Topeka, Kan. To Merrick's left is Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, right, a Stilwell Republican, watches the chamber's electronic tally board as it approves a sweeping anti-abortion bill, Friday, April 5, 2013, at the Statehouse, in Topeka, Kan. To Merrick's left is Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Topeka, Kan. — A phrase declaring that life begins “at fertilization” tucked into new abortion legislation in Kansas is creating concern among abortion rights advocates that the wording will inspire new attempts to prevent the procedure.

Supporters of the measure said the language is no more than a statement of principle — similar to those found in several states, including neighboring Missouri — rather than an attempt to prevent any pregnancies from being terminated. But advocates on both sides of the issue acknowledge the wording could prove helpful to abortion opponents over time.

The bill, sent late Friday to Gov. Sam Brownback, would block potential tax breaks for abortion providers and ban them from furnishing materials or instructors for public school sex education classes. It also outlaws sex-selection abortions and spells out in greater detail what information doctors must provide to women before an abortion.

The measure’s provision declaring that life begins at fertilization says that “unborn children have interests in life, health and well-being that should be protected” and that their parents also have “protectable interests” in their children’s well-being. A similar idea is embodied in “personhood” measures in other states, which are aimed at revising their constitutions to ban abortion; none have been enacted, though the question will be put to North Dakota voters in 2014.

However, Kansas lawmakers aren’t trying to change the state constitution to ban abortions, and the provision notes that any rights suggested by the language are limited by decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Should Brownback — a Republican and a strong abortion opponent — signs the bill as expected, Kansas would become the 14th state to have such language in its laws, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

Many anti-abortion legislators see ‘at fertilization’ statements as symbolic. But it could underpin lawsuits by prospective parents or grandparents who want to block abortions or be cited by abortion opponents in pushing law enforcement officials to scrutinize clinics, said Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

“For me, this is just delightful,” Newman said. “It opens up so many avenues.”

Kansas isn’t the only state to seek new abortion restrictions during this year’s legislative sessions. Last month, Arkansas banned most abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy, and a couple weeks later, North Dakota’s governor signed into a law a measure that prohibits abortions as early as the sixth week.