"This is a direct attack on Roe v. Wade," said Rep. Rick Rehorn, an attorney and Democrat who supports abortion rights.
The Kansas House voted 70-50 Thursday to direct the attorney general's office to file a lawsuit asking the Kansas Supreme Court to make the declaration that life begins at conception. Under state law, the attorney general must raise questions of constitutional law with the court when ordered to do so by either chamber of the Legislature. The Senate doesn't have to vote on the issue. "It's the best method the House of Representatives has to show the importance of life," said Republican Rep. Dan Williams. "That issue is vital to the issue of abortion, as well as many of the issues we deal with."
Supporters say the issue of when life begins is ripe for review by the courts because of advances in medical science since the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion. Critics question whether lawmakers are wasting their time, saying the state court likely wouldn't go beyond upholding Roe v. Wade. "What's determined in a Kansas court is not going to be the law of the land," Rehorn said. "Ultimately, to change that decision, it's going to take the U.S. Supreme Court or a federal constitutional amendment."
Abortion opponents have pushed lawmakers to make the request for several years without success. One reason lawmakers have refuse is that the attorney general, Carla Stovall, is a staunch abortion rights supporter. But now, Stovall is preparing to leave office to run for governor.
The lawsuit ordered Thursday by the House would not be filed until after Feb. 1, 2003, when a new attorney general has taken office. Stovall spokesman Mark Ohlemeyer said Stovall had no comment on the resolution Thursday because she needed to review it.