Anti-abortion bill faces multiple lawsuits

Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights have filed separate lawsuits against a 47-page anti-abortion bill signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in April.

House Bill 2253 is scheduled to take effect today. The bill bans sex-selection abortions, rescinds tax incentives for abortion providers and women who receive abortions, prohibits employees and volunteers of abortion providers from sharing information about sexuality in public schools and states that human life begins “at fertilization.”

While Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against three specific components of the bill, the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a state lawsuit against the bill in its entirety. The bill requires doctors to disclose controversial information about the medical risks associated with the procedure — including the link between abortion and breast cancer, which the American Cancer Society disputes. Clinics also have to provide “Printed materials that inform the pregnant woman of the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child at two week gestational increments from fertilization to full term.” These materials are to include information about the fetus’s capacity to feel pain by the 20th week of development. Planned Parenthood only performs abortions before 21.6 weeks and rarely does so before the 20th week.

Elise Higgins, the manager of government affairs at Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, expressed her organization’s concern with the 20th week threshold in the state’s literature.

“It’s irrelevant to our patients, and most credible medical authorities will tell you that the language is misleading,” she said.

Kathy Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, the largest pro-life organization in Kansas, said the information about fetal development and pain is unwelcome yet factual.

“It’s a truthful consideration,” she said. “Everybody knows these babies feel excruciating pain, it’s just that the abortion clinics don’t want people to hear about it.”

House Bill 2253 also includes a provision requiring doctors to inform women that abortion terminates the life of a “whole, separate, unique, living being” — a provision Planned Parenthood alleges is a violation of free speech because some doctors do not share that view.

“We don’t think government officials should be able to force us to publicly endorse their views about abortion,” Higgins said.

Doctors are permitted to voice their opinions about the matter, even if they directly contradict the above claim. Ostrowski said this caveat renders Planned Parenthood’s case about free speech meritless.

“A doctor could have posters on the walls that read, ‘Disregard everything the state has told you,’” she said, “But you have to say exactly what you’re going to do when you do a procedure.”

Higgins argues that the requirement to call the fetus a “whole, separate, unique, living being” is coercive.

“As long as we’re being compelled by the government to make that ideological statement, then that’s a violation of free speech,” she said.

Planned Parenthood has also taken issue with a section of the bill that requires the websites of abortion providers to display a link to and endorsement of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment right-to-know information site. Higgins said this is more coerced speech.

“It’s not just the hyperlink, it’s the endorsement,” she said. “We’re required to say that it’s scientifically accurate, unbiased and non judgemental information — all three of which are false. The information is designed to coerce and shame women who are seeking abortions.”

Ostrowski said the information is accurate and that women deserve access to it.

“They say they’re pro-choice, but they want to deny women information,” she said. “How can a woman be harmed by more information?”

  • Updated Jun. 30, 2013 at 11:17 pm
  • Edited by Allison Kohn