Fight over Kansas abortion law in state court, too

A legal fight over a sweeping new anti-abortion law in Kansas is spilling into the state’s courts, with two doctors hoping a judge will block enforcement of all of its provisions before it takes effect next week.

Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca Crotty set arguments for Thursday in a lawsuit filed by Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, against the new restrictions. Among other provisions, the law bans sex-selection abortions, blocks tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibits providers from furnishing materials and instructors to public schools’ human sexuality courses.

Hodes and Nauser terminate pregnancies at their health center in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, and they argue the new law violates their right to equal legal protection guaranteed by the Kansas Constitution. They’re also seeking a ruling that a declaration in the new law that life begins “at fertilization” is merely a statement and not an attempt to regulate abortion — as supporters have insisted.

The hearing in their case comes a day after the chief federal judge in Kansas held the first hearing in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood, which performs abortion at its Overland Park clinic. The federal case in Kansas City, Kan., is narrower, attacking only provisions spelling out what information must be provided to patients before their pregnancies are terminated.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil expressed skepticism Wednesday that Planned Parenthood’s clinic would suffer “irreparable harm” if she didn’t immediately block the provisions singled out by the organization. She didn’t issue a decision, although one is expected soon.

The new law takes effect Monday. Supporters contend it preserves life, protects patients and lessens the state’s entanglement with abortion. The Republican-dominated Legislature has strong anti-abortion majorities in both chambers, and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback is a strong abortion opponent.

The state already has spent nearly $769,000 on private attorneys in defending anti-abortion laws enacted since Brownback took office in January 2011. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, also a Republican, has predicted that defending this year’s law will cost the state $500,000 over the next two years.

Hodes and Nauser filed a lawsuit in 2011 against health and safety regulations specifically for abortion clinics. That case still is pending in Shawnee County, preventing the rules from being enforced.

Planned Parenthood’s federal lawsuit contends parts of the new law violate the free-speech rights of its clinic and the clinic’s medical director by compelling them to espouse views promoted by abortion opponents.

The clinic objects to a requirement that the home page for its website link to a state health department site on abortion and fetal development and declare that the state’s information is objective. The organization also opposes a new mandate that patients receive information that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week of pregnancy, which it disputes.

Diana Salgado, an attorney for the New York-based Planned Parenthood Federation of America, argued that the law is an “egregious” example of “compelled speech.” She said that justifies blocking the law while the organization’s lawsuit is heard.

“The government has gone too far,” she said.

The state argues that providers are free to post disclaimers saying they don’t think the state’s information is accurate.

“They can give their patients whatever additional information they want to give them,” Shon Qualseth, a Lawrence attorney representing the state, added.

Vratil raised the same issue, telling Salgado, “I’m struggling with how you can be irreparably harmed.”

Vratil set another hearing in the federal lawsuit for July 29.