Topeka Kansas asked a federal judge Wednesday to reject a claim that a new state law restricting insurance coverage for abortion discriminates against women.
Attorneys for state Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said in court filings that the law "rationally" promotes several legitimate state interests, including "promoting childbirth over abortion." Praeger is the only defendant in the lawsuit, filed in August by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri.
U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown, in Wichita, already has rejected the ACLU's request for an order preventing the state from enforcing the law until the case goes to trial. The law, which took effect July 1, prohibits insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of general health plans, except when a woman's life is at risk, and patients wanting such coverage must buy supplemental, abortion-only policies.
If Brown grants the request from Praeger's attorneys, then the ACLU's case would narrow to the question of whether the law violates the constitutional right to due legal process of women seeking abortion coverage. The ACLU argues that the law also violates' a woman's right to equal protection under the law.
Praeger's attorneys said past U.S. Supreme Court rulings have established that opposition to abortion does not represent discrimination against women as a class. The attorneys also said the law itself "does not suggest any discriminatory intent, gender-based or otherwise." It says the state's goals include controlling insurance costs and "protecting the consciences" of residents who don't want their premiums subsidizing abortion care.
"The state has a well-recognized interest in protecting potential human life, and in favoring childbirth over abortion," Praeger's attorneys wrote.
Andrew Beck, an ACLU attorney in New York, said he expected Praeger's attorneys to make such an argument. He said the law prevents women in Kansas from buying comprehensive health insurance but doesn't similarly restrict men.
"The law clearly discriminates against women," he said. "It singles out a category of health care that only women need."
The law also prohibits coverage of elective abortions in health policies offered through a state-level insurance exchange set up under last year's federal law overhauling health care. The ACLU has said its members include women who want private coverage for abortion and women who would obtain coverage through an exchange.