Kansas abortion foes seek change in law to help with lawsuit
Topeka Abortion opponents are urging Kansas legislators to rewrite part of a 2011 law that imposed special health and safety regulations on abortion providers, telling state senators Wednesday that the move would eliminate an issue in a lawsuit keeping the rules from being enforced.
But an abortion-rights attorney representing father-daughter physicians who perform abortions and filed the suit said making the change creates new legal issues instead.
Lawmakers introduced a bill Monday to make the change sought by abortion opponents, and Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee approved it Wednesday on voice vote, sending it to the full chamber for debate. Both chambers are dominated by Republicans and have strong anti-abortion majorities, so the measure is likely to pass.
"It's a tweak bill," said Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.
The bill clarifies a provision in the 2011 law designed to ban abortions in which a doctor provides an abortion-inducing drug to a patient and consults with her by webcam or similar technology as she takes it. Both sides say there's no evidence that Kansas providers are doing so-called "webcam" abortions.
Stephanie Toti, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, said the change doesn't fix the constitutional problem with the law — specific requirements for doctors that often "aren't medically appropriate" and hinder women's care. The center represents the doctors, Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser, who have a women's health center in Overland Park.
"This bill is seeking to micromanage the way doctors provide care to their patients," Toti said.
Kansas has faced multiple lawsuits over abortion restrictions enacted since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took office in January 2011. The attorney general's office has paid outside attorneys more than $1.2 million since then to defend anti-abortion laws, and the state has prevailed in every case except Hodes' and Nauser's lawsuit over the clinic regulations.
The regulations apply to any office, clinic or hospital performing five or more elective abortions a month. The law sets minimum requirements for abortion providers' staff and buildings, specifies drugs and equipment for them to have on hand and requires them to make their records available for state inspection.
Hodes and Nauser argue in their lawsuit that the law is burdensome, unnecessary and designed to discourage doctors from performing abortions. Judges blocked the law's enforcement from the beginning.
A provision in the law requires a doctor to be in the same room when a patient takes a drug to end a pregnancy in a non-surgical abortion. The new bill clarifies that doesn't apply in medical emergencies. For example, an abortion provider would not have to be present if a hospital treats a pregnant woman and administers a drug that could induce an abortion, even unintentionally.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Jeff Chanay told the committee in a statement that enacting the measure would allow the parties "resolve some contested issues and narrow the scope of the existing litigation."
But Toti said, "This will only multiply the issues in the lawsuit."