The Pitch's guide to Kansas' shift from far right to very wrong 

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The thing to remember about anti-abortion laws in Kansas is that they are basically written by an extremely powerful special-interest group called Kansans for Life. Every year, Kansans for Life devises an agenda for the legislative session, and the lawmakers in its pocket — they are legion — then dutifully push it through. For the vast majority of Republicans in the state, opposing a Kansans for Life–backed bill would be political suicide.

The group has chipped away at abortion rights in small but meaningful ways in recent years. In 2011, Brownback inked bills requiring minors to get signed consent from both parents and prohibiting private insurance companies from covering abortions. The so-called "conscience bill," signed during the 2012 session, allows doctors to refuse to prescribe, and pharmacists to refuse to dispense, birth-control pills and morning-after pills (such as Plan B) or any other care that they "reasonably believe may result in the termination of a pregnancy." So if you live in an isolated part of the state and your doctor is an asshole, you've got some phone calls, some research and a long drive ahead of you if you want any control over your reproductive system.

In the 2013 session, Kansas lawmakers changed the tax code in 12 areas, increasing the financial burden on abortion seekers and providers. Abortion providers are also prohibited now from volunteering in public schools in the state of Kansas. Under appeal is another law, signed by Brownback, that requires Planned Parenthood to include on its website a warning that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week of pregnancy (a claim with zero medical evidence to support it) and a note indicating a link between abortions and breast cancer. ("Inconclusive," is how the American Cancer Society charitably characterizes this second claim.)

There are a few clues out there as to what we may expect from Kansans for Life in 2014. Executive Director Mary Kay Culp has suggested that the group will pursue a provision requiring doctors of patients who are considering abortions to point out the features of the fetus on an ultrasound. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee has lately been crusading against in-vitro fertilization. And the "heartbeat bill," which could ban abortions as early as 18 days after conception, is likely to return to the House floor.

There is some good news: Phill Kline (former Kansas attorney general and Johnson County district attorney) is no longer allowed to practice law in Kansas.

HIGHER ED

Railing against academia is a time-honored tradition among conservative politicians. All those liberal professors, gathering their facts in their libraries, not generating enough quarterly profits, not thinking enough with their guts. But in a culturally spartan place like Kansas, the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Wichita State University are among the primary reasons that people bother sticking around. And the University of Kansas Medical Center has a growing national profile. These institutions are not just socially valuable, though. They're also big employers, and their financial viability is very important to the state.

You wouldn't imagine that fiscally minded Republicans would want to mess with such reliable cash cows. Yet Kansas Republicans have put a higher premium on cutting income taxes, and the money required to do that has to come from somewhere.

So earlier this year, Brownback signed a bill cutting 1.5 percent from the state's general fund for higher education. He also gave a high-five to a bizarre system for making these cuts based on employee salaries, which added to the reductions. As The Kansas City Star put it: "If a school spent more on salaries than previously estimated, the Legislature cut the school's budget by the amount of the overage. And if a school spent less on salaries, the Legislature cut that school's budget by the amount of the shortfall. Universities and colleges couldn't win."

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