KS abortion providers fighting law that requires asking women why they’re getting one

Kansas abortion providers are challenging a new state law that requires them to ask patients their reasons for seeking an abortion.

The law will take effect on July 1 unless blocked by a court. On Monday, attorneys for abortion providers filed court papers to add the survey requirements to an ongoing lawsuit in Johnson County District Court that’s already led to the suspension of several Kansas abortion regulations.

The legal fight has regional implications because of Kansas’ increasingly prominent role as an abortion access point in the Great Plains. Abortion is banned in several nearby states, including Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law, known as HB 2749, in April over the veto of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. The measure represents another attempt by anti-abortion lawmakers to test the outer bounds of a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that interpreted the state constitution to protect access to abortion.

Voters in August 2022 strongly rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have overturned the high court’s decision, paving the way for an abortion ban. While the Legislature hasn’t advanced severe restrictions on abortion since the vote, lawmakers have made new efforts to regulate what women are told and asked before the procedure.

“We’re challenging this latest invasion into the private decisions of Kansans for one simple reason: unlike the legislature, we actually listened when the people voted in August 2022,” Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement.

“Kansans want their medical decisions to be their own, and we will not shame or stigmatize patients to satisfy the cruel whims of anti-abortion politicians.”

The new law mandates abortion providers to survey women, asking them to choose the most important reason for getting an abortion. Those reasons include financial stress, rape, fetal disabilities, or the health of the mother as options. The survey does not include an “other” option, a point of contention for opponents.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment will compile the data into a report publicly released twice a year.

In a motion filed Monday to add the new law to the ongoing Johnson County lawsuit, attorneys for the abortion providers called the requirements “another legislative attempt to co-opt abortion providers to serve as the State’s conduit—this time to pry into patients’ personal medical decisionmaking via intrusive, government-scripted inquiries.”

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach’s office, which is defending Kansas abortion law in court, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

When Kelly vetoed the bill, she called it “invasive and unnecessary.” She also referred to the August 2022 vote, saying voters don’t want politicians interfering in private medical decisions.

Top Republicans have described the measure as a data collection effort. House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, has emphasized that answering the survey questions is voluntary. He has also nodded to Kansas’ growing role as an abortion access point.

“By overriding the Governor’s veto of this bill, voluntary and anonymous abortion data will now be made available to KDHE so they can have up-to-date and relevant information. The Governor’s unreasonable fear of this data collection is nothing but a roadblock to helping serve these vulnerable women better,” Hawkins said in an April statement.

In 2022, the last year of data available, 12,318 abortions were performed in Kansas, according to an official state report, up from 7,849 in 2021 — an increase of 57%. The growth occurred entirely in abortions among out-of-state residents, which grew by 4,563. At the same time, Kansas residents obtained fewer abortions in 2022 than the year before.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, 46 states require some form of abortion reporting. Of those, 16 ask about a patient’s reason for obtaining an abortion with nine of them asking about reasons beyond rape, incest, fetal abnormalities and health of the mother.

Johnson County District Court Judge Christopher Jayaram is overseeing the ongoing lawsuit against Kansas abortion restrictions. It’s unclear how quickly he will act on the abortion provider’s challenge; Kobach will likely first argue against blocking the law.

Jayaram has previously blocked existing abortion regulations, including some in place for decades.

In October, the judge stopped officials from enforcing a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. He also halted enforcement of rules mandating abortion providers, without evidence, post information in clinics and online warning abortions can increase the risk of breast cancer and premature birth in future pregnancies.

A bench trial in the lawsuit is currently scheduled for February 2025.