Government & Politics

Kansas Supreme Court’s abortion rights ruling now being used to fight restrictions

A Kansas Supreme Court opinion recognizing women have the right to an abortion under the state constitution is now being cited in court in an effort to block restrictions on abortion.

Abortion opponents fear it’s the first of many times the sweeping decision will be used against a host of anti-abortion laws in Kansas.

“Under the Kansas Constitution, access to abortion is a fundamental right,” Leah Wiederhorn, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said during a hearing Wednesday in Shawnee County District Court.

The comments came as part of a lawsuit brought by Trust Women, a Wichita-based clinic that offers abortions. The clinic contends a 2018 law banning telemedicine abortions violates the state constitution.

In a telemedicine abortion, a doctor and a woman speak via videoconference before she takes medication to end a pregnancy. The procedure involves two pills. One is taken at a clinic and the other at home.

Kansans for Life director May Kay Culp fears abortion rights supporters will continue to wield the Supreme Court decision, which said women have the right to decide whether to end a pregnancy. Requirements that parents be informed of a child’s abortion, bans on taxpayer-funded abortions — Culp says it’s now all under threat.

“We’ve cut abortions almost in half in Kansas by things (restrictions) that are allowed by Roe vs. Wade” Culp said. But now abortion opponents “have to meet a much, much higher level of scrutiny.”

Trust Women seeks an order stopping Kansas from enforcing the telemedicine law, even though a December ruling appeared to do just that. The clinic says the state attorney general, the Sedgwick County district attorney and the state Board of Healing Arts have refused to provide assurances they won’t enforce the law.

The clinic began offering telemedicine-assisted abortions in October, but stopped in January and filed a second lawsuit seeking an injunction against the ban.

Attorneys representing Trust Women say the Supreme Court ruling means the government must clear a very high bar to restrict abortion.

“That shifts, significantly, the burden from us to the defendants when it comes to proving whether the law is constitutional,” Wiederhorn said.

The judge in the case, Teresa Watson, indicated she could rule within the coming weeks. A decision in favor of Trust Women could encourage abortion rights supporters but also serve as a rallying cry for lawmakers and others demanding a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court opinion.

“They could go back and turn over virtually all of our abortion (law),” Culp said. “That’s why we’re going to be doing everything we can to amend the Kansas Constitution.”

The hearing comes as the Board of Healing Arts, which regulates health care providers, investigates Trust Women. The clinic’s CEO, Julie Burkhart, testified a complaint has been made against the clinic.

Culp later confirmed her organization filed a complaint. The anti-abortion organization believes Trust Women’s decision to offer telemedicine-assisted abortions last fall violated a previous ban on “webcam abortions” that was put in place years before the 2018 ban.

Burkhart testified the clinic fears the licenses of physicians that work at the clinic could be targeted if it provides abortions involving telemedicine.

“I was concerned the clinic could be penalized … and I decided we would cease to offer that in order to protect the clinic and our doctors,” Burkhart said.

Tucker Poling, an attorney for the Board of Healing Arts, said during the hearing the board hasn’t tried to take anyone’s license.