Kansas Abortion Law Challenged on Free Speech Grounds
Planned Parenthood has scaled back its federal lawsuit against Kansas’ sweeping new abortion law to home in on a specific free speech issue.
The suit is now focused on a new requirement that abortion providers link their websites to a state website that features hotly contested claims about abortion.
The new law, which went into effect July 1, further requires abortion providers to declare that the information on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website is “objective” and “scientifically accurate.”
“What Planned Parenthood is arguing is, ‘you cannot force us to certify as physicians that information is scientifically and medically accurate when we believe otherwise,’” said Holly Weatherford, program director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. “It’s well documented that some of the information provided by the state is not widely accepted in the medical community.”
The state website contains claims that a fetus can feel pain “by no later than 20 weeks from fertilization,” though this is disputed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The OB-GYN group cites a 2005 American Medical Association review that found fetal pain to be unlikely before the third trimester, and says studies published since 2005 have not significantly challenged this finding.
The state materials also list breast cancer among the long-term medical risks of abortion, emphasizing that it is an ongoing area of study even though the National Cancer Institute found no such link.
Planned Parenthood objected to what it called “ideological messages” embedded in the medical information, including the statement that “abortion terminates the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
Attorneys for the state are rebutting Planned Parenthood’s free speech complaint by arguing the authority to regulate medicine in Kansas includes the power to require abortion providers to distribute a broad range of information.
However, the state has also given doctors the authority to selectively withhold medical information on ideological grounds. A separate law passed earlier this year gives legal protection to doctors who discover serious fetal abnormalities and deliberately withhold the diagnosis out of concern that the mother might seek an abortion.
Separate Suit Targets Whole Law
Planned Parenthood has not yet added the link to its website because the part of the law that requires it has been temporarily blocked by a judge. The suspended requirement is a result of a separate lawsuit filed by Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, who operate an abortion clinic in Kansas.
|Read our series, “The Assault on Reproductive Rights”
Unlike the Planned Parenthood suit, this lawsuit targets the entire 70-page overhaul of Kansas’ abortion statutes. Hodes and Nauser asked the judge to block the law as a whole pending the outcome of their suit, but the judge only agreed to block two elements: the website requirement and a change to the conditions for an emergency abortion.
The doctors convinced the judge that a new definition of “medical emergency” in the bill would effectively eliminate any medical exception to Kansas’ 24-hour abortion waiting period, endangering the lives of women with pregnancy complications.
Kansas’ new abortion law prohibits abortions based on sex selection, blocks all tax breaks for abortion providers and bans providers from supplying materials or instructors to public schools for health or sex education courses. It also defines life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, making Kansas the eighth state to pass a “personhood” clause.
Such personhood laws don’t circumvent the protections of Roe v. Wade, which provide women with the right to an abortion up to the point of fetal viability. But they do establish a legal foundation for quickly prohibiting all abortion in the event that the Supreme Court overturns or modifies Roe v. Wade in the future.
Do you think Planned Parenthood should be required to declare the state’s claims as “objective” and “scientifically accurate?” What do you think of the state of Kansas’ abortion laws? Let us know in the comments section below.