Abortion clinic restrictions on hold in Kansas after Supreme Court ruling

South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita
South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita The Wichita Eagle

Abortion opponents vowed to keep fighting in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday that struck down Texas’ strict regulations of abortion clinics that closely mirror regulations currently on hold in a Kansas court.

The nation’s highest court held that the Texas regulations are medically unnecessary and unconstitutionally limit a woman’s right to an abortion. Texas rules require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and force clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient care.

Kansas lawmakers passed similar requirements in 2011, but that law has been temporarily blocked pending trial in Shawnee County.

“We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling, but the Governor will continue the fight to make Kansas a pro-life state,” Eileen Hawley, spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback, said in an email.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office said through a spokeswoman only that it was reviewing the ruling.

Monday’s decision was lauded in Kansas by abortion rights supporters who contend it clearly tells legislatures that such laws are unconstitutional.

Abortion opponents contend the decision jeopardizes women’s health.

Kansas has four clinics offering abortions.

The abortion rights group Trust Women opened a clinic in 2013 in the same Wichita building abortion provider George Tiller once practiced before he was murdered in 2009 by an anti-abortion zealot. Trust Women plans to open another clinic this summer in Oklahoma City.

Julie Burkhart, the group’s founder and chief executive officer, said abortion rights supporters hope the Kansas court will now look at the ruling the U.S. Supreme Court issued and will set aside the state law, noting the high court was clear the provisions requiring hospital admitting privileges and strict surgical standards are unconstitutional.

“It is a good moment,” Burkhart said of the decision.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said in a news release it faces identical restrictions in Missouri and Kansas, and will examine all legal avenues to invalidate these “unconstitutional and medically unnecessary laws that place an undue burden on patients seeking safe and legal abortion in our states.”

Attorney Bob Eye, who represents Trust Women, said the ruling provides “state legislators a good deal more guidance on just exactly what the court will consider to be an undue burden and hopefully legislators will avoid enacting laws that constitute and undue burden” on women’s right to abortions.

Kansas is embroiled in at least three lawsuits challenging various state laws restricting abortion services.

Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for Kansans for Life, acknowledged the ruling will affect the cases now under litigation. She also noted the provisions in Texas that were struck down are similar to ones in Kansas that are part of a larger anti-abortion law now under injunction.

Within hours of the ruling, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue sent out a fundraising email seeking emergency donations so it could “double down” on its efforts. Its director, Troy Newman, said in the email that he helped write the Texas law and fought hard for its passage.

“And now that it has been struck down, I am more motivated than ever to keep fighting to make sure every American is aware of the horrors of the abortion industry,” Newman said.