Judge puts parts of new Kansas abortion law on hold

A Kansas judge on Friday temporarily blocked two abortion restrictions that were to take effect next week, including a requirement that providers said would make it nearly impossible for a woman to obtain an emergency abortion.

Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca Crotty blocked two specific provisions that:

• Required providers to declare on their websites that the state health department’s information on abortions and fetal development is accurate and objective. Among other things, the state asserts that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks.

• Redefined medical emergencies to exclude mental health reasons, such as a woman threatening to commit suicide. The intention was to bring the definition in line with the state’s general policy of not including mental health as a reason to obtain an emergency abortion. Critics have said the new definition is so narrow that a woman never would be able to avoid the state’s 24-hour waiting period, even if her life were in danger.

Crotty refused to block other provisions that outlaw gender-selection abortions, ban tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibit them from furnishing materials or instructors for public schools’ sexuality courses. Another provision that will take effect Monday requires doctors to inform patients that abortion ends the life of “whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

The judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by physicians Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Traci Nauser, who perform abortions at their Overland Park health center. They asked Crotty to prevent the state from enforcing the entire law while their lawsuit proceeds.

Hodes and Nauser argued that the law violates their rights to equal legal protection and due legal process, as guaranteed by the state constitution. They said the website mandate violated their free-speech rights.

Hodes called the ruling “a victory for women in Kansas.” One of his attorneys, Teresa Woody of Kansas City, said Crotty’s order stops enforcement of what the doctors saw as the two most troublesome provisions in the law “because of their immediate impact on their ability to treat patients.”

Kansas House Judiciary Committee chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican heavily involved in drafting anti-abortion legislation, said he is fine with the court ordering the state to “tweak” the language on medical emergencies, viewing the changes made this year as technical.

Abortion opponents also said they’re confident that the website requirement will stand once it is reviewed further.

“I’m glad to hear that the rest of it was upheld,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life. “It is very much a law that’s pro-women being able to make more of a real choice.”

Supporters of the law 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.

Crotty’s ruling came two days after the chief federal judge for Kansas had a hearing in Kansas City, Kan., on a narrower challenge filed by Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions at its Overland Park clinic. Planned Parenthood is challenging provisions requiring providers to give certain information to patients.

The state 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.

Health and safety regulations enacted in 2011 specifically for abortion clinics have never been enforced because courts are still reviewing them.