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Doctors say new Kansas law asking women why they're getting an abortion is unconstitutional

Republicans voted down an effort to inform Kansas patients of their right to refuse to tell the state their reason for seeking an abortion.
Rose Conlon
Kansas News Service
Republicans voted down an effort to inform Kansas patients of their right to refuse to tell the state their reason for seeking an abortion.

Kansas abortion providers are seeking to expand an ongoing lawsuit challenging several abortion restrictions.

Abortion providers are challenging a new Kansas law that will soon compel women to tell their doctors — and the state health department — their top reason for seeking an abortion.

They say the law, set to take effect July 1, is unconstitutional and violates patient privacy.

“Conversations that happen in the exam room are private,” Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in an interview. “They’re in no way something that the Legislature should have access to.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights and several abortion providers announced the legal challenge this week, less than a month after Republican state lawmakers narrowly overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the law.

“The decision to have an abortion is deeply personal — no one should be forced to tell the government why they are making that decision,” said Alice Wang, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a release. “It’s frankly frightening that the state of Kansas is attempting to collect this type of private information, and unclear how it will be used.”

The new law is one of several legislative wins Kansas anti-abortion groups are celebrating this year — despite their inability to ban abortion outright due to protections in the state constitution. Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to remove those protections in 2022.

Kansas providers are experiencing record demand for abortions from out-of-state residents in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and many nearby states banning the procedure. It amounts to several hundred more patients seeking abortions at Kansas clinics each month, according to data published last week by the Society of Family Planning, a research group that supports abortion rights.

That has pushed some providers to open new clinics to help meet the demand. Planned Parenthood recently announced it plans to open a clinic in Pittsburg this fall — its second new clinic in Kansas since Roe was overturned two years ago.

In a legal filing, abortion providers are asking the Johnson County District Court to add their challenge of the new data law to a larger lawsuit against several of the state’s existing abortion restrictions. A judge has temporarily blocked the restrictions at the heart of the lawsuit, including a 24-hour waiting period that had previously been in place for decades. The case is set to go to trial next year.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, who is defending the existing laws on behalf of the state, criticized the move in an emailed statement.

“It would be highly improper to add a challenge against an entirely new law to an existing lawsuit that was filed a year ago. The state will oppose any such effort,” Kobach said. “If these plaintiffs wish to challenge the new law, they must do so in a new lawsuit.”

What does the abortion data law do?

The law requires abortion providers to ask their patients which of 11 possible reasons is most relevant to their decision to get an abortion. Possible reasons include that the patient cannot financially provide for a child and that the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Answering the question, ostensibly, is optional — the law states that if someone refuses to answer, their refusal will be recorded. But lawmakers voted down a proposed amendment that would have clarified to patients that the question is indeed optional.

“When folks are in this vulnerable position, there’s a power dynamic happening,” Rep. Christina Haswood, the Lawrence Democrat who introduced the amendment, said in a House health committee meeting earlier this year. “They might not know they don’t have to fill out the survey.”

Republicans rejected the amendment because, they said, informing patients of their right to refuse to answer the question would likely result in fewer patients answering it.

“It just kind of gives an open door to neutering our whole bill,” said Rep. Ron Bryce, a Coffeyville Republican.

The law also requires providers to collect more new information from patients, including whether they’ve recently experienced domestic violence and whether they consider their living situation safe, stable and affordable.

The state health department must include the new information in its regular report on abortion statistics, and publish the report biannually instead of annually.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights’ filing, that “represents another legislative attempt to co-opt abortion providers to serve as the State’s conduit — this time to pry into patients’ personal medical decision-making.”

Anti-abortion advocates push back

The abortion data law was a key legislative priority of the anti-abortion advocacy group Kansans for Life. In legislative testimony, proponents said it could help lawmakers and anti-abortion groups alleviate some of the conditions they believe lead people to get abortions, like financial insecurity.

In an email, Kansans for Life communications director Danielle Underwood denounced the challenge to the law.

“We’re never surprised by the hypocrisy of the abortion industry, as their preferred think tanks ask these same questions of women,” Underwood said, referring to a 2005 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, based on voluntary research conducted at a number of U.S. abortion clinics.

“On top of this, for years they have claimed pro-lifers are not doing enough to address the social circumstances surrounding abortion, yet now want to fight any attempts to do just that,” she added.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

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

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.