Alice Wang, staff attorney for Center for Reproductive Rights, talks to reporters after a March 27, 2023, hearing before the Kansas Supreme Court. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — A Kansas judge on Monday blocked a combination of long-standing and newly implemented abortion restrictions in the state in what abortion providers described as a “hard-fought” win against “ethically unjustifiable” misinformation.
Johnson County District Judge Krishnan Christopher Jayaram ruled against several abortion requirements set out in the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” patchwork legislation enacted over the past two decades that uses medically inaccurate information to dictate abortion restrictions.
“The Act appears to be a thinly veiled effort to stigmatize the procedure and instill fear in patients that are contemplating an abortion, such that they make an alternative choice, based upon disproven and unsupportable claims,” Jayaram wrote in his ruling.
The lawsuit was filed in June by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood on behalf of Kansas abortion providers. Providers asked for a temporary injunction to block several abortion restrictions, arguing the restrictions violate state constitutional rights to abortion and free speech.
“Forcing medical providers to give patients government-scripted misinformation violates the state constitution and medical ethics,” said Alice Wang, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The court recognized that today and removed these paternalistic barriers that have restricted access to abortion for far too long.”
Under the injunction issued by the judge, abortion providers can disregard a new law that would have required them to tell patients it might be possible to reverse a medication abortion. This supposed “abortion reversal” is based on junk science and has been known to cause hemorrhaging.
Also blocked is a mandate that anti-abortion information be given to patients in printed form, in specific typeface, font size and color, at least 24 hours in advance of an abortion.
Another blocked section required providers to post inaccurate information on their websites and in clinics that abortions could increase risk of breast cancer and premature birth in the future — a claim not supported by scientific research.
At the time of the case’s hearing in August, abortion providers said the state law had long been onerous but had become an even-greater obstacle since the overturning of federal abortion protections last year.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade, Kansas has become one of the few states left in the region that protects abortion rights, leading to an influx of out-of-state travelers coming to Kansas clinics. State law allows abortions up to 22 weeks after gestation and in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
The Kansas Supreme Court in 2019 determined the state constitution’s right to bodily autonomy extends to the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Voters in August 2022 overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion without exception.
Following the defeat of the amendment, Republican lawmakers adopted a slew of anti-abortion measurers this spring, including the “abortion reversal” law. Lawmakers overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto to fold the junk science requirement into the Women’s Right to Know Act.
Abortion data shows record numbers of out-of-state travelers coming to Kansas clinics, but the act has forced providers to turn people away because of minor bureaucratic mistakes, such as coming in with the wrong font color on their forms.
“Each day these restrictions were in effect, we have been forced to turn away patients for reasons that are medically wrong and ethically unjustifiable,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “Today’s ruling is a crucial step in achieving what Kansans emphatically supported in August 2022: abortion access without political interference. No patient should be denied care because they printed a form in the wrong color, but that is precisely what these laws have mandated us to do.”
The lawsuit, filed June 6, fought against these restrictions — including a mandatory ultrasound and a requirement that a physician has to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat and offer the patient the chance to do so as well.
Anti-abortion group Kansans for Life criticized the injunction.
“This is a nightmare for women and a dream come true for the profit-driven abortion industry,” said Danielle Underwood, organization spokeswoman. “Women will pay the price for the deceitful practices of the abortion industry that consistently puts its own profits above all else.”
Defendants in the case include Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, among others.
Along with several other abortion providers, plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Herbert Hodes and Traci Lynn Nauser. The board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists’ challenge of a different state law led to the Kansas Supreme Court’s landmark 2019 ruling.
“This ruling represents a hard-fought win for our patients all across Kansas and in neighboring states where abortion is banned,” Nauser said. “While there is still a long road ahead to ensure that Kansans are able to access timely abortion care without facing barriers, we are grateful that we can continue to provide accurate, patient-centered information to those who trust us with their care.”
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