Abortion becomes a tax issue in Kansas House bill

 

The Kansas City Star

The tax code is becoming the new weapon in the war against abortion with Kansas pioneering the way.

The Kansas House passed a bill Monday that would further restrict abortion by rewriting state tax law. "Nobody on the state level has gone through their tax code in this manner," said Elizabeth Nash, a state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health issues.

The measure is patterned after a similar bill pending in Congress.

The Kansas bill, approved on an 88-31 vote, would prohibit taxpayers from deducting money spent on an abortion or for supplemental health insurance to cover the procedure.

It would bar employers from deducting any money they contribute to a health plan for supplemental insurance coverage of an abortion. It also would ban corporations from taking a tax credit for contributions they make to Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services in Kansas.

The bill also would apply sales taxes to any drugs used to perform or induce an abortion.

The measure expands efforts seen in Kansas and across the country to cut off direct public funding to family-planning providers that also offer abortion. This is new because it uses the tax code to go after that funding, Nash said.

Should the bill pass, it could be a template for other states to follow, she said.

The measure now goes to the Senate where its prospects are uncertain as the Legislature moves toward a close this week.

"It was just a matter of ferreting out all the ways a state might be subsidizing abortion," said Kathy Ostrowski, lobbyist for anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.

How the bill might financially affect Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri was not immediately clear, said Peter Brownlie, the agency's president and chief executive.

"The anti-abortion forces continue to use the power of the state to impose their views and impose their views even through the tax system," Brownlie said.

Brownlie said he thought it was odd that the Legislature would pass a bill raising taxes on abortion services while working to cut taxes for the rest of the state.

However, some lawmakers said that their principled opposition to abortion overrode any nominal increase in taxes that might result from the bill.

"There might be some small, incremental increases in the amount of taxes some people would have to pay as a result of what we did in this bill," said Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican and one of the chief advocates for the bill.

"I have priorities in my principles. Protection of life is my top priority and it always has been," Rubin said.

The sweeping 70-page bill approved by the Kansas House goes well beyond taxes.

It includes a provision that would require physicians to inform women that an abortion poses a risk of breast cancer. The websites of the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society say studies have found no such risk.

The bill also would bar state employees, including residents at the University of Kansas Hospital, from performing abortions on state property or state time.

KU sought an exemption from the law because it was concerned that it would jeopardize the accreditation of its obstetrics and gynecology program. However, it was only granted a one-year reprieve from the law.

"This is not a simple little abortion bill that some folks would have you believe," said Rep. Judy Loganbill, a Wichita Democrat.

The Kansas bill comes almost a year after Arizona Legislature passed a bill that was aimed at charitable contributions going to Planned Parenthood.

The Arizona law, challenged in court, cut off an income tax credit for any donations made to nonprofit groups that provided abortion referral or counseling. The American Civil Liberties was able to block the law in court.

The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America said Kansas was one of about four states with similar bills trying to get at abortion through the tax code.

But Kansas is the only state this year to move toward eliminating tax credits or deductions for an individual seeking an abortion, said Ted Miller, a spokesman with NARAL.

"I wouldn't say Kansas is alone, but it's definitely at the forefront," Miller said. "If Kansas passes this bill ... then it will break new ground in interfering with women's health-care decisions."

Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, was the sponsor of the Kansas legislation. He said he didn't think the tax implications were very broad.

Nevertheless, Kinzer said he thought it was important for the state to make a stand about public subsidies of abortion.

"The bottom line is it stands for public policy that those abortions that can be lawfully obtained should be paid for by private dollars and shouldn't be incentivized through the tax code," Kinzer said

Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said it was unlikely that senators would approve the House bill without taking a look at the measure in committee first.

"It's a pretty extensive piece of legislation," Emler said.

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