Wichita The American Civil Liberties Union has won a legal round in its effort to overturn a Kansas law that restricts insurance coverage for abortions.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson sided with the organization by rejecting the state’s request to dismiss a key challenge of the law based on equal protection. The ruling, handed down Thursday, allows the ACLU to continue pursuing its argument that the law illegally singles out women.
The Kansas law prohibits insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of general health plans, except when a woman’s life is at risk. Patients who want abortion coverage must buy supplemental policies, known as riders, that cover only abortion.
The ACLU contends that the law discriminates against women, since men can buy full comprehensive coverage for all their health needs but women need to buy a separate policy to add abortion coverage. The organization contends the purpose of the law is to inhibit women from getting abortions.
That “argument gets closer to the heart of the issue — namely, whether the means used by the state of Kansas to further its interests, including its interest in protecting potential life, can be considered legitimate in view of the individual liberty” outlined in a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision, Robinson wrote. The judge was referring to a ruling that tried to strike a balance between the right of the state to protect a fetus and the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy.
Robinson said the ACLU might be able to show at trial that Kansas imposed an undue burden by creating a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.
The ruling provides a glimpse into the legal reasoning of Robinson, the federal judge in Topeka who is overseeing the case following the death of U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown in Wichita earlier this year.
Brown refused last year to block the law’s enforcement, saying opponents failed to prove their claim that legislators’ real intent was to create obstacles for women seeking abortions. But he also told the ACLU that it could try again, noting his decision wasn’t a final ruling on the merits of the group’s claims.
Women seeking an abortion in Kansas need to buy the insurance rider or pay for the procedure out-of-pocket if their insurance policies are new or were renewed after the law took effect last year on July 1.
The law was among several major anti-abortion initiatives approved by Kansas legislators and signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who called on lawmakers to create “a culture of life” after he took office in January 2011. Supporters of the insurance restrictions contended that people who oppose abortion shouldn’t be forced to pay for such coverage in a general health plan.
In her ruling, Robinson said the U.S. Supreme Court had already made clear that the undue burden standard is the appropriate means of reconciling the state’s interest in potential human life with the woman’s “constitutionally protected liberty” to have an abortion. However, she noted that the high court has not yet clarified how to consider an abortion-related challenge under an equal protection theory, one of the key claims in the ACLU’s lawsuit.