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Kansas headed back in court over abortion law

6/26/2013

By JOHN HANNA

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas officials are headed back to court to defend new restrictions on abortion providers, having already spent nearly $769,000 on private attorneys in lawsuits over the state's anti-abortion laws.

Chief Judge Kathryn Vratil was scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., on whether she should temporarily block parts of a sweeping state law set to take effect Monday. Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit last week over provisions spelling out what information patients must receive before their pregnancies are terminated. The organization wants Vratil to prevent the state from enforcing the restrictions until its lawsuit is resolved.

Under the law, doctors must tell women seeking an abortion that the procedure ends the life of a "whole, separate, unique, living human being." Doctors must also tell patients that a fetus can feel pain by the 20th week of pregnancy. Planned Parenthood also objects to a requirement that its website link to a state health department site on abortion and fetal development.

Planned Parenthood's clinic in Overland Park and its medical director argue that the provisions violate their free-speech rights by forcing them to espouse disputed arguments.

"The state this time has gone a step further than they have previously," Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said before the court hearing. "They've crossed a line, and our decision is to call them on it."

Planned Parenthood's litigation is only one of multiple lawsuits over abortion restrictions enacted since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent, took office in January 2011. Abortion opponents have large majorities in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Not only has Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office incurred big bills from private law firms so far -- including more than $10,000 in the past two months -- it predicted earlier this year that defending the new anti-abortion law would cost an additional $500,000 over the next two years.

Brownback told reporters Tuesday that he's concerned about the costs associated with defending the laws but added, "At the end of the day, these are major discussions about the nature and value of human life."

"It's a major issue of concern to the people of Kansas and the Legislature," Brownback said. "This is one of the major issues of our day. A lot of people believe this is life and this is something worth discussing."

Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, who perform abortions at their Overland Park health center, filed their own lawsuit in state court, challenging the entire law enacted this year. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Thursday in Shawnee County District Court.

The new law also would ban sex-selection abortions, block tax breaks for abortion providers, prohibit them from furnishing materials or instructors for public school classes and declare as a general policy that life begins "at fertilization."

Another lawsuit filed by Hodes and Nauser in 2011 over health and safety regulations specifically for abortion providers remains pending in Shawnee County District Court, preventing the rules from being enforced.

Planned Parenthood also is challenging budget decisions each of the past three years to deny the group family planning dollars to provide non-abortion services, and that issue is before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The state won a federal lawsuit over a 2011 law restricting private health insurance coverage for elective abortions.

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Online:

Text of the new Kansas law: http://bit.ly/13mjcIA

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