In an unprecedented move, the Kansas state senate approved a bill on Friday that would outlaw a common abortion procedure typically done in the second trimester of a pregnancy. If passed, the measure would bar abortion providers from performing dilation and evacuation, colloquially known as "D&E." It would be the first anti-abortion law of its kind, and could mark a new movement for abortion foes at the state level.
Drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act redefines dilation and evacuation as "dismemberment abortions." Kansas state Sen. Garrett Love, a Republican who sponsored the bill, reportedly called the procedure "truly barbaric" in his defense of the bill. "[Dilation and evacuation abortion is] a practice we must end in Kansas," Love told the chamber.
Dilation and evacuation is the most common abortion procedure for women who are in the second trimester of a pregnancy. The typically two-day procedure requires the cervix to be softened and opened up to 24 hours before the extraction process. Once the cervix is dilated, the fetus and tissue are removed through a combination of vacuum aspiration (which is commonly used for first-trimester abortions), forceps and a curette.
Anti-abortion activists have often used inciting language such as "dismemberment" or "mutilation" to describe the procedure. Just this week, Rep. Isaac Latterell, a Republication state representative from South Dakota, compared the procedure to beheading, and claimed Planned Parenthood is "worse than ISIS." Latterell is also pushing a similar measure in South Dakota to ban dilation and evacuation, labeling his bill the "Preborn Infant Beheading Ban of 2015."
Dilation and evacuation abortions are only performed after the 12th week of pregnancy. Considering that more than 90 percent of abortions nationwide are performed during the first trimester, dilation and evacuations occur at a much lower rate. According to PBS NewsHour, the procedure accounts for just eight percent of abortions performed in Kansas. In South Dakota, the rate is even lower, with state health records showing that dilation and evacuation accounted for less than 0.2 percent of abortions in 2013.
Still, this newfound focus on dilation and evacuation seems like a new back-door ban for anti-abortion activists, who have been chipping away at abortion access over the last few years with regulation measures that pro-choice activists say are extreme and potentially dangerous for women. With dilation and evacuation procedures banned, women who need to terminate their pregnancies in the second trimester would be forced to have labor induction abortions, which are not only more expensive, but also more invasive. Women who cannot afford the procedure may end up having to travel across state lines, or possibly turn to unlicensed medical providers.
Meanwhile, the National Right to Life Committee is championing the "groundbreaking" bill, which the group said in a statement last month could alter the landscape access of abortion in the United States. As the constitutionality of 20-week abortion bans hangs in the balance of federal courts, could outlawing dilation and evacuation procedures finally be the way for abortion opponents to undermine the 24-week viability framework established in Roe v. Wade and ban second-trimester abortions for good?
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