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Kansas judge hears first post-Roe challenge to abortion restrictions

Rose Conlon
Kansas News Service

Abortion providers are suing over a handful of new and old abortion restrictions they say violate Kansans’ right to abortion. Attorney General Kris Kobach says the rules are necessary.

OLATHE, Kansas — Lawyers for abortion providers and the state of Kansas argued in court Tuesday over the constitutionality of a handful of state abortion restrictions that providers want blocked.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains and the Center for Women’s Health in Overland Park are suing the state over a controversial new abortion pill reversal law that would force them to give patients medically unfounded information. They’re also seeking to block three longstanding abortion restrictions concerning state-mandated counseling and waiting periods.

The case, heard by Johnson County District Court Judge Christopher Jayaram, is the first new challenge to Kansas abortion restrictions after a decisive statewide vote preserving abortion rights last year.

The abortion pill law was set to take effect July 1, but Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, an anti-abortion Republican, agreed to not enforce it until the judge ruled on providers’ request for a temporary injunction.

Jayaram didn’t rule Tuesday on the request.

Alice Wang, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the requirements violate patients’ right to an abortion and doctors’ right to free speech.

“Without federal protection for the right to abortion, it is exceedingly important that Kansans’ right to abortion is enforced,” she told reporters after the hearing.

Kobach said the requirements are needed to make sure women understand the risks of having an abortion.

“The Women’s Right to Know Act … has been an important part of ensuring informed consent before any abortions are performed,” he said in a Tuesday afternoon news release. “We’re confident that the court will uphold this common-sense statute."

But providers say the rules — including one requiring patients to bring a signed form, printed in a specific font size and color, to their abortion appointment — are designed to make it more difficult to get an abortion. And they’ve become increasingly burdensome as Kansas clinics see a sharp rise in out-of-state patients following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last year.

Between 20% and 25% of Planned Parenthood Great Plains’ patients don’t complete the 24-hour consent form correctly, according to president and CEO Emily Wales, forcing staff to reschedule the procedure for another day — often after the patient has traveled hours for their appointment.

“We often tell people, you’ve gotta go home to Texas,” Wales said. “You’ve gotta drive 12 hours back home, and we’ll see if we can fit you in in another couple weeks.”

Abortions rose 57% in Kansas in 2022, driven by a surge of patients from Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri in the six months after the Supreme Court’s decision.

Kobach broke with precedent in retaining the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom to assist with the case. The group has worked to push through conservative legal victories in several states, including the Mississippi abortion law that eventually led to the overturning of Roe.

Abortion remains legal up to 22 weeks of pregnancy in Kansas, and the Republican-controlled Legislature is prevented from banning the procedure by a 2019 state Supreme Court decision that ruled the right to abortion is part of the state constitution.

But lawmakers succeeded in overriding vetoes by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to enact incremental abortion-related legislation this year, including the abortion pill reversal law and a largely symbolic law that prohibits providers from killing infants born alive as a result of an attempted abortion.

They also set aside $2 million to create a state-funded program to dissuade women from having abortions. The Kansas Treasurer’s Office is currently accepting bids from contractors to run the Alternatives to Abortion Program.

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

Noah Taborda reports on health for KCUR.

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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