Federal judge orders trial for Kansas abortion law challenge

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Kansas [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that a challenge to a 2011 Kansas law [HB 2075 materials] prohibiting insurance companies from covering abortions [JURIST backgrounder] will go to trial. The law in question prohibits comprehensive insurance plans from covering any abortion other than to save a woman's life but allows companies to offer a separate rider to cover abortions for an additional cost. Plaintiff American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri (ACLU) [official website] had sought summary judgment, arguing that the statute's purpose is improper under the Due Process Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] in that the Kansas legislature's predominant purpose in passing the legislation was to impede access to abortion care, not to serve legitimate state interests. The state responded with a cross motion denying such a purpose and further requesting summary judgment on the ACLU's additional claim that the law has the unconstitutional effect of imposing a substantial obstacle to obtaining abortions. Judge Julie Robinson granted summary judgment for the state on the question of unconstitutional purpose, removing the issue from the litigation. However, Robinson denied the state's motion regarding the law's unconstitutional effect, holding that the question creates a genuine issue of material fact concerning the number of women whose right to an abortion is unduly burdened by the legislation. According to the court, during the 2011 calendar year 7,851 reported abortions were performed in Kansas, and in a similar time span the three major health insurers in Kansas with a combined total of over 70 percent of the market share had a total of 137 paid claims for abortions.

The lawsuit was originally filed by the ACLU [JURIST report] in 2011. In September of that year the court denied the ACLU's request for an injunction [JURIST report] to halt enforcement of the law while the litigation proceeds. Governor Sam Brownback (R) [official website] signed HB 2075 into law in May 2011, one month after he signed two other pieces of legislation [JURIST report] restricting abortions in the state, specifically the Abortion Reporting Accuracy and Parental Rights Act [HB 2035, PDF], which requires unemancipated minors to obtain notarized parental signatures before an abortion may be performed, and the "fetal pain bill" [HB 2218, PDF], which restricts abortions beyond 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the controversial belief that a fetus can feel pain at that stage of gestation.

 

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