TOPEKA — Two Kansas doctors filed a lawsuit Friday in state court seeking to overturn a sweeping new anti-abortion law set to take effect in July, only a day after Planned Parenthood attacked portions of that law in a federal lawsuit.
Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, contend in their lawsuit that the new law violates their rights to equal protection as guaranteed by the Kansas Constitution. The law blocks tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibits them from furnishing materials or instructors for public schools’ human sexuality classes.
Hodes and Nauser perform abortions at their health center in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. They previously filed a lawsuit in 2011 over health and safety regulations imposed specifically for abortion providers, and that still-pending suit in Shawnee County is preventing the state from enforcing the rules.
This time, Hodes and Nauser also are challenging provisions of this year’s law spelling out what information doctors must provide to women before terminating their pregnancies, including a statement that abortion ends the life of a “whole, separate, unique, living human being.” They also object to a ban on sex-selection abortions, arguing there’s no proof any are performed in Kansas and that the provision is designed to “chill the performance of abortions.”
In addition, the doctors argue in their litigation in Shawnee County District Court that the new law defines medical emergencies so narrowly that no woman could forgo the state’s 24-hour waiting period, even with a life-threatening condition.
“The law as a whole would impose such an incredible burden,” said Stephanie Toti, an attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the doctors.
Officials with Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse, said all of the regulations were drafted to withstand court scrutiny. Kathy Ostrowski, its legislative director, said the language on medical emergencies is not as narrow as described and only prevents abortion providers from avoiding restrictions by citing mental health reasons for an emergency, such as a suicide threat.
Mary Kay Culp, the group’s executive director, said Hodes and Nauser are “out of the mainstream.” Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is a strong abortion opponent, and the Legislature has big anti-abortion majorities in each chamber.
“They’re basically out of options in a state where the governor and the Legislature are pro-life,” she said. “Their only option is the courts.”
The new law also declares that life begins “at fertilization.” Supporters argue that it’s merely a broad statement of principle, not an attempt to regulate abortion, and Hodes and Nauser are asking for a ruling to that effect.
Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Overland Park and its medical director sued the state on Thursday, limiting its federal court challenge to “informed consent” provisions and a requirement that a provider’s website link to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Planned Parenthood argues those provisions violate free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Meanwhile, a Planned Parenthood lawsuit in 2011 against a state law denying the organization family-planning dollars for nonabortion services in Kansas is before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office has paid outside lawyers more than $758,000 defending anti-abortion laws enacted since Brownback took office in January 2011.
Friday’s lawsuit names Schmidt and Brownback’s secretaries of revenue and health and environment as defendants.
Among the provisions that the suit attacks is one requiring abortion providers to post a sign on their premises noting that it is illegal for anyone to coerce someone into having an abortion. The lawsuit said the notice is so lengthy that the sign will have to be at least 6 square feet.
“At some point, it just becomes absurd,” Toti said.
But Ostrowski said the sign would be the size of a small picture. Culp said the law’s requirements are designed to ensure that women get adequate information from abortion providers.
“They want to call it ‘choice’ even when they control all of the information given to a woman,” she said.