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Crime and Courts

Kansas Abortion Restrictions Could Face Challenges Following Supreme Court Ruling In Texas

Bill Clark
CQ-Roll Call, Inc.
Abortion rights supporters and opponents gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 20.

The leader of a local organization that provides abortion services is encouraged by a U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down some abortion restrictions in Texas.

The HB2 law required clinics that provide abortions to have surgical facilities and physicians to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, which operates the South Wind Women’s Clinic in Wichita and is opening another clinic in Oklahoma City, says she’s waiting to see how the ruling will impact similar laws in Kansas and Oklahoma.

“We’ll just be assessing how we’re moving forward as a provider in the days to come, and how this will be affecting us and the people of these states," Burkhart says.

A 2011 Kansas law regulating clinics that provide abortion--including provisions on including air temperature, locker room and janitorial closet requirements--was challenged and blocked in district court in that same year. Similar restrictive abortion laws in neighboring Missouri’s are certain to face a court challenge following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.

The high court, by a 5-3 vote, ruled that the 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion under the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Texas said the law aimed to protect women’s health. Critics said it was intended to shut down abortion clinics by imposing unnecessary, burdensome and costly requirements. Since the law was enacted, the number of clinics providing abortions in Texas, a state with a population of 27 million, has dropped to 19 from a high of 41.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion, said the burdens imposed by the requirements exceeded any benefits they conferred.

“Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access … and each violates the Federal Constitution,” he wrote.

Joining Breyer were Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the court's decision was "historic."

"This is a monumental day for reproductive rights, reproductive health access," she said during a telephone conference call with reporters. "It is historic not only by the vote itself but by the content of the decision, which is broad and sweeping in nature."

"It is an emotional day that we are finally here," she said. "This is easily the most important decision facing reproductive health access in more than 20 years."

Like Texas, Missouri has some of the most onerous abortion provider restrictions in the nation. There is only one surgical abortion provider now in the state, Planned Parenthood’s clinic in St. Louis, compared with more than two dozen 35 years ago.

Missouri was the first state to require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Among other things, the state specifies height and width requirements for procedure rooms and corridors.

In 2005, Missouri became the first state to require doctors providing abortion services to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The state also requires that women wait 72 hours between visiting a doctor and having an abortion procedure.

Kansas also has highly restrictive abortion measures, including air temperature, locker room and janitorial closet requirements.

Restrictions like these are often referred to as “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” or TRAP laws. Supporters claim they’re intended to protect women’s health and safety, but critics point out that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, with fewer than one-half of 1 percent of procedures resulting in serious complications.

A Kansas state court enjoined the Kansas restrictions a few years ago. Planned Parenthood's Laura McQuade says for that reason, her organization will challenge the Missouri laws first.

“We feel it’s necessary to take on the active requirements first, which has been a significant barrier to abortion access in the state," she says.

Kansas is currently defending a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood challenging the legality of Kansas’ attempt to cut off its Medicaid reimbursements. The judge overseeing that case has said she will issue her decision before July 7, the date the state has said it will terminate Planned Parenthood’s participation in the Medicaid program.