Abortion providers sue Kansas over new medication rule, long-standing waiting period
photo by: AP File
TOPEKA, Kan. — Abortion providers sued Kansas on Tuesday, challenging a new law requiring them to tell patients that an abortion medication can be stopped but also existing restrictions that include a decades-old requirement that patients wait 24 hours to terminate their pregnancies.
The lawsuit filed in state district court in Shawnee County, home to the state capital of Topeka, argues that Kansas has created a “Biased Counseling Scheme” designed to discourage patients from getting abortions and to stigmatize patients who terminate their pregnancies. The lawsuit contends that the requirements have become “increasingly absurd and invasive” over time and spread medical misinformation.
Kansas voters in August 2022 decisively affirmed abortion rights, refusing to overturn a state Supreme Court decision three years earlier that declared access to abortion a matter of bodily autonomy and a fundamental right under the state constitution. The providers hope the state courts will invalidate the entire state law that spells out what they must tell patients — in writing — and when, with a single, specific style of type mandate for the forms.
Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, one of the providers filing the lawsuit, said the Republican-controlled Legislature’s approval of the new abortion medication law caused providers to look at the broader law and restrictions they have always found problematic. Under the new law, set to take effect July 1, providers would be required to tell patients about a regime for stopping medication abortions that major medical groups consider ineffective and potentially dangerous.
“We thought about the fact that the voters were very clear in the fact that they want providers able to speak directly and honestly to their patients,” Wales said in an interview. “This addition would really harm patients potentially, so we felt compelled to do something.”
Last year’s vote and the 2019 state Supreme Court decision mean that Kansas lawmakers cannot greatly restrict or ban abortion, in sharp contrast to other states with Republican-controlled Legislatures following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision against abortion rights in June 2022. The new Kansas law was enacted over the veto of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, an abortion rights supporter.
The medication abortion-reversal regime, touted for more than a decade by abortion opponents, uses doses of a hormone, progesterone, commonly used in attempts to prevent miscarriages. Supporters of the new law — and Kansas’ entire Right to Know Act — argue that they are making sure that patients have the information they need to make informed decisions about ending their pregnancies.
Anti-abortion groups and lawmakers also are likely to be upset about the lawsuit because of the campaign leading up to the August 2022 vote. The measure on the ballot was a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have declared that it does not grant a right to abortion. Abortion opponents pitched it as a way to preserve reasonable restrictions. But as written, the Legislature would have gained the power to ban abortion — and that point was emphasized by abortion rights supporters.
Abortion foes warned repeatedly that without a change in the state constitution, the state risked having even longstanding restrictions reversed. Parts of the law being challenged — including the 24-hour waiting period — were enacted in 1997.
“With today’s lawsuit, the profit-driven abortion industry has launched an unprecedented attack on a woman’s right to informed consent before an abortion is performed on her,” Danielle Underwood, spokesperson for Kansans for Life, the state’s most influential anti-abortion group, said in a statement.
Underwood added that with the attack on the waiting period, “they’re aggressively working to speed up the decision-making process, seemingly forcing women into abortion without discussion of alternatives.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Planned Parenthood affiliate, which operates two clinics in the Kansas City area and one in Wichita; another center offering abortion services in the Kansas City area; its owner and another doctor working there. The defendants are state Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican who has vowed to defend state abortion laws; district attorneys in the Kansas City and Wichita areas who would enforce the restrictions; and the top staffer and chairman of the state medical board.
However a district court judge rules, the case is likely eventually to go to the Kansas Supreme Court. The seven justices already are reviewing a ban enacted in 2015 on the most common second-trimester abortion procedure and a 2011 law setting special health and safety regulations for abortion providers. Neither has been enforced.