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Lawsuit claims several old and new Kansas abortion restrictions are unconstitutional

A lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Planned Parenthood and another Kansas abortion clinic says several state abortion restrictions violate the Kansas Constitution.
Hugo Phan
Kansas News Service
A lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Planned Parenthood and another Kansas abortion clinic says several state abortion restrictions violate the Kansas Constitution.

Kansas abortion clinics are challenging four state abortion restrictions, including a decades-old 24-hour waiting period and a new “abortion pill reversal” law.

WICHITA, Kansas — It’s become a frequent scene at Kansas Planned Parenthood clinics.

Women show up for an abortion appointment — often from out of state — and get turned away because of a simple paperwork error: They didn’t correctly print out a state-mandated consent form that needs to be signed a day ahead of time.

“Increasingly, we have patients who are traveling from Texas, Oklahoma, sometimes as far as Louisiana. (They) printed out the form in the wrong font size or the wrong color,” said Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Emily Wales. “That means we have to delay care for an extra 24 hours.”

For decades, Kansas has required people to receive written, state-mandated counseling about abortion — including medically unfounded claims that it can increase the risk of developing breast cancer — and wait at least 24 hours before getting an abortion.

That’s led Planned Parenthood and an Overland Park clinic to challenge the restriction and several others in court.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the clinics said the laws violate the Kansas Constitution. In 2019, the state Supreme Court ruled the constitution protects the right to an abortion. Last year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that sought to change that.

At issue are four provisions:

  • A requirement that abortion providers give patients state-mandated counseling designed to dissuade them from getting an abortion, including the disproven claim that abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
  • A mandatory 24-hour waiting period after receiving that information.
  • A mandatory 30-minute waiting period between meeting with an abortion provider and beginning the procedure.
  • A new law requiring doctors to tell patients medication abortion may be reversible.

In practice, clinics send patients the paperwork online, with specific instructions that they must print it out and sign it ahead of their appointments.

But Wales, the Planned Parenthood official, said some people don’t understand or pay attention to the form. Others are scared to print information about abortion from a family computer or in a public library.

Still others, she said, fall victim to simple formatting mistakes.

“Very frequently, on a daily basis, we end up paying for an extra night in a hotel for patients because we need them to stay an extra day,” she said.

Now, as more people travel to Kansas from other states to get abortions, the stakes of being turned away have gotten bigger.

“In many states, they’re worried about their friends or family knowing that they’re getting care — or being sued under some of these civil vigilante justice laws,” Wales said. “Putting on them a burden to go somewhere and print out a medically unnecessary state-mandated form doesn't make any sense.”

Kansas lawmakers enacted the abortion pill reversal law this year, overriding a veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. That drew criticism that the law forces doctors to spread medical misinformation.

It takes effect July 1. The plaintiffs are requesting the law be blocked immediately.

Danielle Underwood, a spokesperson for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said the lawsuit is an attempt to undermine a woman's right to informed consent about abortion.

“Not only are they seeking to remove access to information that many women have deemed essential to this life-altering decision,” she said in an email, “they’re aggressively working to speed up the decision-making process.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release that the group is putting renewed energy into defending state constitutional protections for abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

“Last year, Kansans voted that they wanted abortion access to remain constitutionally protected in their state,” she said. “Now, politicians have passed a law that would force providers to tell their patients outright falsehoods.”

It’s the second major lawsuit filed by Kansas abortion providers in recent weeks. Last month, the Wichita-based clinic Trust Women joined a multi-state lawsuit challenging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of the abortion pill mifepristone.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
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