Judge blocks parts of new Kansas abortion law
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas judge on Friday temporarily blocked a new abortion restriction that providers said would make it nearly impossible for a woman to obtain the procedure in an emergency and another requiring them to tell women that disputed assertions about fetal development and abortions are accurate and objective.
Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca Crotty refused to block other portions of the law that ban sex-selection abortions, block tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibits them from furnishing materials or instructors for public schools' sexuality courses. There is also a requirement for doctors to provide information to patients that includes a statement that abortion ends the life of "whole, separate, unique, living human being."
The judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, who perform abortions at their Overland Park health center. They asked Crotty to prevent the state from enforcing the entire law while their lawsuit proceeds.
One blocked provision requires providers to declare on their websites that the state health department's information on abortions and fetal development is accurate and objective. Among other things, that information asserts that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks, although the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said it knows of no legitimate evidence showing that's accurate.
Another blocked provision redefines medical emergencies. The intention was to bring the definition in line with the state's general policy of not including mental health as a reason for a woman to obtain an emergency abortion. Critics of the provision have said the new definition is so narrow that a woman never would be able to avoid the state's 24-hour waiting period, even if her life were in danger.
Hodes called the ruling a "victory for women in Kansas." One of his attorneys, Teresa Woody, of Kansas City, Mo., said Crotty's order stops enforcement of what the doctors saw as the two most troublesome provisions in the law "because of their immediate impact on their ability to treat patients."
In considering the new language on medical emergencies, the judge said the two doctors "supported" their assertion that the changes "effectively eliminate any meaningful exception."
"Without an adequate medical emergency provision, the health and lives of pregnant women are endangered," Crotty wrote.
Kansas House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican heavily involved in drafting anti-abortion legislation, said he's fine with the court ordering the state to "tweak" the language on medical emergencies, viewing the changes made this year as technical.
Abortion opponents also said they're confident that the website requirement will stand once it's reviewed further.
"I'm glad to hear that the rest of it was upheld," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-abortion group at the Statehouse. "It is very much a law that's pro-women being able to make more of a real choice."
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent, noted that the litigation is in early stages and "this will go through a number of court iterations."
Hodes and Nauser argued that the law violates their rights to equal legal protection and due legal process, as guaranteed by the state constitution. They said the website mandate violated their free-speech rights.
Crotty said Hodes and Nauser did not present enough information to justify blocking the entire law, requiring her to review each provision.
Crotty's ruling came two days after the chief federal judge for Kansas had a hearing in Kansas City, Kan., on a narrower challenge filed by Planned Parenthood. That challenge involves the website rule as well as other provisions regarding information must give to patients.
The state has spent nearly $769,000 on private attorneys in defending anti-abortion laws enacted since Brownback took office in January 2011. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, also a Republican, has predicted that defending this year's law will cost the state $500,000 over the next two years.