Topeka A federal lawsuit over a new Kansas law restricting private health insurance coverage for abortions appeared to be moving forward quickly Friday, but a separate suit challenging new rules for abortion providers was slowing down after the state won a temporary halt to evidence-gathering.
The insurance law and the new clinic regulations were among several major anti-abortion initiatives approved by Kansas legislators and signed into law this year by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican who called upon lawmakers to create “a culture of life” after taking office in January.
“These passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate, and now it will be up to the court system to resolve whether the people of Kansas, through their elected representatives, can do these things,” Brownback told The Associated Press on Friday. “I think the factual basis of these cases is good.”
But Teresa Woody, a Kansas City attorney representing an abortion provider in the lawsuit challenging the clinic regulations, said: “If it’s unconstitutional, it’s unconstitutional. “It doesn’t matter how many people voted for it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit earlier this month over the insurance law, which prohibits private companies from offering coverage of elective abortions as part of their regular health plans. As of July 1, people wanting such coverage must purchase separate, abortion-only policies.
Supporters of the law argue people opposing abortion shouldn’t be forced to pay for coverage in a general health plan. The ACLU contends the law is designed to limit a woman’s financial ability to get an abortion and is discriminatory because men’s health coverage isn’t restricted.
On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Kenneth Gale, in Wichita, scheduled a hearing for Sept. 16 on the ACLU’s request to block enforcement of the law until the matter is settled at trial. Gale will make a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown, also in Wichita. The hearing was set shortly after the 104-year-old Brown referred the case to Gale.
Doug Bonney, an ACLU attorney in Kansas City, Mo., said the group is pleased with the relatively quick scheduling of a hearing. Jeff Wagaman, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the hearing date is “about what we expected.”
Meanwhile, the state health department hasn’t been allowed since July 1 to enforce its clinic regulations, which tell abortion providers what drugs and equipment they must stock and set minimum sizes and temperatures for some rooms. Two of the state’s three abortion providers are challenging the rules, and U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia, in Kansas City, put them on hold until a trial of that lawsuit.
But this week, U.S. Magistrate Karen Humphreys, in Wichita, ordered a temporary halt to evidence-gathering until she considers the state’s request for a longer stop. The attorney general’s office noted in court filings that the clinic regulations remain in effect only until Oct. 29, when they’re due to be replaced by another identical set still being reviewed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
In its filings, the attorney general’s office said some interviews and material gathered could be irrelevant once the new regulations are in place.
The health department enacted its regulations as “temporary” rules so they could be in place by July 1, before a public hearing set for Sept. 7. The department will consider possible changes after the hearing.
Brownback called the new regulations “pretty modest.” He and other supporters believe they’ll protect patients.
Woody filed notices last month that the abortion providers’ attorneys intended to question health department officials and members of the attorney general’s staff in September and that both agencies had received a list of questions and a demand to produce documents.
Abortion rights advocates argue the state has no research or data to support claims the regulations will make abortion safer. In response to a records request, the department told The AP last month that it had no copies of studies, reports or summaries of data compiled by the department’s staff before the rules were issued.
The attorney general’s office refused this week to release copies of communications between it and the governor’s office or the health department as the regulations were drafted. The Associated Press requested the documents in late June.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Mendoza wrote in a letter that the state hopes to prevent the abortion providers from gathering records or other information about officials’ activities by claiming they enjoy “absolute” legal immunity while drafting the regulations.
In response, Woody said: “Why are they ashamed to let people know how they came up with these?”