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New abortion laws take effect in Kansas, but doctors are challenging one in court

Planned Parenthood Great Plains is among the providers challenging a new Kansas law compelling doctors to ask patients why they're getting an abortion.
Rose Conlon
/
Kansas News Service
Planned Parenthood Great Plains is among the providers challenging a new Kansas law compelling doctors to ask patients why they're getting an abortion.

Abortion providers say the law, which requires them to report women's reasons for getting abortions to state officials, is invasive and unconstitutional. Anti-abortion groups say it will provide meaningful data to policymakers.

A Kansas judge allowed a group of abortion providers to expand an existing lawsuit and challenge a new law requiring them to collect information about their patients’ reasons for ending their pregnancies.

The law was slated to take effect Monday, along with two other laws backed by anti-abortion groups. But a Planned Parenthood Great Plains spokesperson said Monday that the Kansas health department “has stated that it will not enforce this intrusive law for now.” A health department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HB 2749 requires doctors to report abortion patients’ anonymized responses about why they’re getting an abortion — out of a list of 18 possible reasons — to state officials for public release. It also compels the state health department to release abortion statistics information twice yearly.

Abortion providers say that’s invasive and medically unnecessary. Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights say it also violates the Kansas Constitution because it impedes the doctor-patient relationship and interferes with Kansans’ right to bodily autonomy, which the state Supreme Court affirmed in 2019. They moved to add the law to an existing lawsuit challenging a handful of older Kansas abortion restrictions.

Anti-abortion groups who spearheaded passage of the new law have said more information about why women seek abortions will help groups like theirs and policymakers better support women with unplanned pregnancies. The data, they argue, could inform programs and policies that ultimately reduce abortion rates.

The original lawsuit challenged a longstanding 24-hour waiting period that providers say was increasingly problematic for patients traveling from other states and a requirement that doctors distribute misinformation to patients, including disproven claims that abortion can increase the risk of breast cancer and premature delivery of future pregnancies. It also challenged a law passed in 2023 that required providers to give patients controversial information about the supposed reversibility of abortion pills. Johnson County District Court Judge K. Christopher Jayaram decided in October to temporarily block those requirements.

In a virtual hearing on Monday, Jayaram said the issues at the heart of the original lawsuit closely resembled providers’ complaints against the new law.

Both the old laws and new law, he said, “involve a woman’s highly personal and private choice of whether to continue with a pregnancy or terminate that pregnancy after consultation with her respective health care providers.”

Lawyers for the state of Kansas sought to block providers from adding the new challenge to the existing lawsuit. They argued it could delay proceedings. But the judge noted that the case — which was originally scheduled to go to trial last month, and is now scheduled for trial in January — had already been slowed at the state’s request.

“This case was stayed, at the behest of the state, for approximately six months,” Jayaram said, “so any claims of delay rings somewhat hollow, in this court’s view.”

The hearing took place on the same day that two other abortion-related laws took effect in Kansas. One increases funding for anti-abortion groups that dissuade women with unintended pregnancies from getting abortions. A second makes it easier to prosecute people for coercing others to get abortions.

Republican Attorney General Kris Kobach did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His office is defending the existing abortion restrictions. He’s contracted with the conservative legal group Alliance for Defending Freedom — which fights similar legal battles in other states — for support on the case.

Kansas Republicans overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to pass the new abortion reasons law this spring.

Under the law, women technically can refuse to tell their doctors why they’re getting an abortion, but lawmakers decided against informing women of that right. Doing so, they argued, would likely result in fewer women answering the question, thus interfering with data collection.

The consequences of Kansas abortion restrictions extend beyond its borders because of the state’s role as a key abortion access point for people from across the South and Midwest in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. More than two-thirds of patients at Kansas clinics traveled from other states in 2022, the last year for which health department data is available, and it's expected to have risen since then.

The Kansas health department recently said it would release numbers for 2023 in the state’s vital statistics report, which is expected to be released toward the end of this year. That represents a significant delay; the department typically releases abortion statistics in a separate report in the spring or summer. Anti-abortion advocates criticized the delayed release of data.

“Gov. Kelly’s decision to not release the numbers shows the very reason the (abortion reasons) legislation was needed in the first place,” Kansans for Life said in a recent news release.

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.