Legislators in three states pass new restrictions on abortion

PHOENIX (Reuters) – State lawmakers in Arizona, Kansas and Idaho moved on Wednesday to place new restrictions on abortion, as opponents of the procedure looked to seize on gains by conservatives in the November mid-term elections.

The Kansas Senate adopted a bill to ban abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother’s life was otherwise at risk or she faced the risk of substantial and permanent danger to her health.

The measure must return to the House to reconcile technical differences with a version of the legislation passed there. Newly elected Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure into law.

Earlier in the day, the Idaho Senate approved legislation placing similar restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, sending its bill to the state House of Representatives, where passage is expected.

A National Right to Life Committee representative predicted the legislation will find favor with Idaho’s Republican governor.

A court challenge is expected to Nebraska legislation enacted last year that served as the model for the Idaho and Kansas bills approved on Wednesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 but allowed states to ban the procedure, unless it risked the woman’s health, after the time when the fetus could potentially survive outside the womb.

Seventeen states in all are considering bills that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, unless it could be proved the pregnancy endangered the woman’s life. Supporters cite research suggesting a fetus can feel pain at that stage of development.

But data also show the number of abortions performed that late in pregnancy is extremely low. Out of 1,650 abortions performed in 2009 in Idaho, for example, only 14 involved pregnancies at 16 to 20 weeks, according to state figures.

Also on Wednesday, the Arizona House of Representatives voted to make that state the first in the nation to ban abortions performed on the basis of the race or gender of the fetus.

The legislation would not penalize women who have an abortion for those reasons, but would make it a felony for doctors and other medical professionals to perform such abortions, and prohibit anyone else from paying for them.

Under current Arizona law, a woman does not need to tell her doctor why she is having an abortion, said Cynde Cerf, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The bill goes to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, for her possible signature.

Republicans gained seats in state legislatures of Idaho, Kansas and Arizona in the November 2010 mid-term elections, as conservatives seized on voter discontent with President Barack Obama and Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

On Tuesday, South Dakota’s Republican governor signed into law a bill to impose a three-day waiting period on most abortions, the longest yet enacted in the country.

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Pheonix, Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho, and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)

Legislators in three states pass new restrictions on abortion