Kansas judge throws out abortion regulations, saying they infringed on women’s access to care

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The 2011 law was blocked because a judge said it could have made it harder to get an abortion in Kansas.

TOPEKA – Abortion regulations in a law passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2011 have been thrown out by a Shawnee County judge who said they infringed on women’s access to care.

The judge said the law required abortion providers to have inspections that other medical providers aren’t subject to, had unnecessary staffing requirements and made patient health records more accessible to state departments.

Some requirements added minimum recovery times for patients after procedures even though the current standards of care leave that up to the discretion of staff.

Abortion providers argued the requirements would increase wait times, disrupt care and increase costs.

“Restrictions that merely delay access to abortion impair a fundamental right,” Shawnee County District Judge Mary Christopher said in her decision. “As a result, it is not difficult for this court to conclude the challenged laws infringe on a woman’s right to access legal abortion services.”

Christopher said the defendants failed to show how further regulation will make abortions safer, which is what supporters said was the goal.

The 2011 law wasn’t enforced during the legal process, and the judge said there wasn’t any “event impacting the health or safety of a person seeking abortion care” during that time. The mortality rate of abortions is also .0006%, and getting an abortion is about 14 times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, court documents read.

Danielle Underwood, Kansans for Life director of communications, was disappointed by the decision because the regulations were created in response to a whistleblower complaint about unsanitary conditions at one Kansas City, Kansas, facility.

The Board of Healing Arts already regulates medical offices and the conditions of facilities, but Underwood wants to see better protections in place.

“Without these standards in place, we know that the abortion industry does not police itself,” Underwood said. “The state of Kansas has lost its ability to ensure that women are getting proper care and treatments in these facilities.”

Emily Wales, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement that Planned Parenthood always works to provide a safe environment for patients.

“This week’s ruling confirmed what we have long known: medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion do not make care safer,” she said. “Instead, they’re intended to prevent patients, and especially those with few resources, from accessing critical reproductive services across the state of Kansas.”

Underwood said the decision further emphasizes the need for a constitutional amendment that would specify there’s no right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution. Previous court rulings have said that right is protected by the state’s highest law.

What supporters call the Value Them Both Amendment is a ballot question in the 2022 primary election that asks Kansans if the constitution should be changed to specify that there’s no right to abortion and it can be regulated. The amendment wouldn’t make abortions illegal, but it would allow lawmakers to further regulate the procedure.

Critics of the amendment argue it could open the door to stricter abortion laws or even an all-out ban. Federal rulings still protect abortion rights, but if those go away then the only protections would be what’s found in the state constitution.

Democrats contend the amendment is ultimately an attempt to strip women of a right using the constitutional amendment process.

“Human rights should not be put to a popular vote,” Democratic Rep. Lindsay Vaughn said during debate on the amendment earlier this year.

Christopher ruled the law unconstitutional in part because previous rulings by the state supreme court said “the supremacy placed on the rights of individuals, preservation of natural rights is given precedence over the establishment of government.”

Underwood said future abortion regulations could be rejected for the same reason if Value Them Both fails.

“We will not be able to put any kind of limits on the activities of the abortion industry,” she said. “And that is a desperate problem for the people of Kansas to solve.”

Restrictive laws in nearby states are sending more people to Kansas for abortions. KCUR reported that nearly half of abortions are for Missourians. Texans and Oklahomans are also increasingly heading to Kansas for abortions because restrictions limit their options.

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at blaise@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW 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.

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