TOPEKA Kansas has paid private law firms slightly more than $1 million to defend anti-abortion law enacted during the past three years, the attorney general's office confirmed Wednesday.
The costs include $179,000 in attorneys' fees and expenses associated with federal and state lawsuit filed over restrictions enacted last year. Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office disclosed the figures exclusively at the request of The Associated Press as hundreds of abortion opponents rallied outside the Statehouse to mark the 41st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the nation.
Abortion opponents have been able to enact a raft of new laws since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took office in January 2011. Brownback and other officials spoke at the rally, portraying abortion opponents as being on the right side of history in their efforts to ban such procedures.
Abortion rights groups have portrayed the state's expenses in defending anti-abortion laws in court as costs that could have been avoided, draining resources from social services or education. But some abortion opponents expect the restrictions eventually to be upheld and argue that they're preserving lives and helping women who face crisis pregnancies.
"When you do the right thing, it costs you money," said state Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, a Grandview Plaza Republican and strong abortion opponent. "What price tag do you put on saving lives?"
Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which performs abortions at a suburban Kansas City clinic, said the money could be better spent elsewhere.
"It's money that could be put to use addressing the real needs of Kansans for health care, education, economic development," Brownlie said.
While Kansas has enacted sweeping limits on abortion and providers since Brownback took office, it hasn't attempted to ban abortions in the earliest weeks of pregnancies, as in Arkansas and North Dakota. The newest Kansas restrictions, challenged in separate state and federal lawsuits this summer, block tax breaks for abortion providers and govern what appears on their websites.
A state-court lawsuit is still pending against health and safety regulations approved in 2011 specifically for abortion clinics, but the state prevailed in a federal lawsuit against 2011 restrictions on private health insurance coverage for elective abortions. All of those cases have been handled by the firm of Thompson Ramsdell & Qualseth, of Lawrence.
A federal lawsuit against a 2011 law preventing the state from distributing federal family planning dollars to Planned Parenthood to provide non-abortion services is before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. That case has been handled by Foulston Siefkin, the state's largest law firm, with offices in Wichita, Topeka and Overland Park.