Kansas abortion rights groups file lawsuit against junk science ‘abortion reversal’ law

Plaintiffs also challenge 30-minute wait time, bureaucratic regulations on abortion forms

By: - June 6, 2023 3:44 pm
In the Co/efficient poll released this weekend, 47% of the over 1,500 voters sampled support the so-called “Value Them Both” amendment and 43% are against it. The remaining 10% are undecided. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

Protestors carry signs at a June 24, 2022, rally in Kansas City, Missouri, after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated abortion rights. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas abortion providers filed a lawsuit combating an “abortion reversal” law based on a debunked study, calling the state’s tightened abortion regulations increasingly “inaccurate” and a violation of bodily integrity.  

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday with the Johnson County District Court by several plaintiffs, including Hodes & Nauser of the landmark 2019 abortion case and Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. The plaintiffs asked the court to block the “abortion reversal” law before it takes effect July 1. 

“Compelling providers to serve as the State’s mouthpiece and disseminators for inaccurate and ideological government-scripted messages that are designed to pressure patients into choosing childbirth over abortion … interferes with the principles of bodily integrity and patient autonomy that underlie informed consent,” the lawsuit reads. 

The law passed in late April, following Republican lawmakers’ successful override of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. It requires abortion providers statewide to tell patients the effects of mifepristone, the first of two pills used in medication abortion, is reversible.

Bill proponents have pointed to a debunked study to support the claim that the pregnancy could be preserved if progesterone is taken within a certain time period after the abortion pill, though studies have shown the reversal attempt has significant health risks for women, including hemorrhaging. 

Under the law, physicians who refuse to talk to their patients about “abortion reversal” on more than one occasion could face up to a year of jail time. Health care facilities that prescribe or administer mifepristone would be fined $10,000 if they refuse to put up the mandatory notice.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for the anti-abortion organization Kansans for Life, condemned the lawsuit. 

“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,” Underwood said. “Not only are they seeking to remove access to information that many women have deemed essential to this life-altering decision, they’re aggressively working to speed up the decision-making process, seemingly forcing women into abortion without discussion of alternatives.”

Other restrictions challenged in the lawsuit include a 30-minute wait time between meeting with an abortion provider and receiving abortion care and bureaucratic requirements on font size, typeface and color for abortion form-related communications.

“These laws are designed to shame and stigmatize people as part of a broader effort to make abortion inaccessible. We will not stand by as Kansans’ rights continue to be undermined — especially after they made their support for abortion access resoundingly clear last summer, ” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

The 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling in the Hodes case determined that the state’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy includes the right to terminate a pregnancy. State voters in August 2022 overwhelmingly defeated a constitutional amendment meant to eliminate that right.

The lawsuit comes after a legislative session rife with anti-abortion sentiment, with Republican lawmakers attempting to chip away at established abortion protections. A “Born Alive” bill passed by Legislature promotes an inaccurate idea that “failed abortions” are performed on infants, and tax dollars have been set aside to support “pregnancy crisis centers,” organizations meant to discourage women from seeking abortions.

“Politicians have passed a law that would force providers to tell their patients outright falsehoods, piling on to already coercive requirements that make abortion in Kansas harder to access and demean those seeking abortion care,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “With the fall of Roe v. Wade, state constitutional protections for abortion rights are especially critical and we will defend them vigorously.”

The defendants in the case include Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, along with Susan Gile and Ronald Varner, officials from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.

The attorney general’s office has not yet responded to a Reflector inquiry for comment.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.