Abortion providers in Kansas have filed a lawsuit against the state, challenging existing restrictions and a law that will take effect on July 1, 2023. The legislation will require providers to inform their patients that a medication-driven abortion can be stopped using a regimen that has been criticized as unproven and potentially dangerous by major medical groups. The lawsuit asserts that the state has created a “Biased Counseling Scheme” aimed at discouraging patients from having abortions and spreading medical misinformation. The suit also challenges the decades-old requirement that patients must wait 24 hours to terminate their pregnancies. The legal action, filed in state district court in Johnson County, hopes to invalidate the entire state law that spells out provider counselling obligations in a specific style of type mandated for the forms.
Abortion rights in Kansas were decisively affirmed by voters in August 2022, 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 lawsuit hopes that Kansas state courts will invalidate Kansas’ Right to Know Act. The act contains requirements that providers must inform their patients in writing, and when, in a specific format. Emily Wales, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said, “We thought about the fact that the voters were very clear in the fact that they want providers to be able to speak directly and honestly to their patients,” commenting that the newest restriction could potentially harm patients.
The law requiring providers to inform their patients that a medication-driven abortion can be stopped using an unproven and potentially dangerous regimen has been championed by abortion opponents. The regimen uses doses of a hormone, progesterone, that are frequently used to prevent miscarriages. Kansas’ entire Right to Know Act is underpinned by the argument that legislators are ensuring patients have the information they need to make informed decisions about ending their pregnancies.
Despite last year’s vote and a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision prohibiting lawmakers from greatly restricting or banning abortion, anti-abortion groups and lawmakers are also expected to be displeased with the lawsuit. During the August vote, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would not grant a right to abortion was pitched as a way to preserve reasonable restrictions. But as it was written, the Legislature would have obtained the power to ban abortions, and this point was emphasized by abortion rights supporters. Supporters of the proposed amendment warned that without changing the state constitution, the state risked having even longstanding restrictions repealed. Parts of the law being challenged were enacted in 1997, including the 24-hour waiting period, which has been widely criticized as medically unnecessary and causing patients additional travel and childcare costs.
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 include state Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican who has pledged to defend state abortion laws; district attorneys in the Kansas City and Wichita areas, who will enforce the restrictions; and the top staffer and chairman of the state medical board. District court judges are expected to eventually send the case to the Kansas Supreme Court, which is already reviewing a 2015 ban on the most common second-trimester abortion procedure and a 2011 law that established unique health and safety regulations for abortion providers. Neither has been enforced.