A Kansas judge on Thursday blocked a law that would have effectively banned the majority of second-trimester abortions performed in the state, in a win for reproductive rights advocates less than a week before the law was set to take effect. The last-minute ruling concluded that the law would place an undue burden on women seeking to terminate a pregnancy, violating the constitutions of both the United States and the state of Kansas.
Kansas Senate Bill 95, which was drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), would effectively outlaw the dilation and evacuation procedure that is used for 95 percent of second-trimester abortions and about 9 percent of all abortions performed in Kansas. Abortions in the state are currently generally allowed up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy; this law could ban abortions eight week earlier than that. It does not make exceptions for survivors of rape and incest.
The first-in-the-nation law would also redefine the dilation and evacuation procedure as “dismemberment abortion,” part of a coordinated campaign by the NRLC and other anti-choice advocates to influence public opinion by using graphic, medically inaccurate language to describe the procedure.
Women’s health experts have come out strongly against the law, describing it as a dangerous measure that would prevent doctors from using their sound medical judgment to decide what is best for patients. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abortion using what is known as suction aspiration can be performed up to 14 weeks’ gestation, but after 14 weeks dilation and evacuation is the safest means of performing an abortion. The Kansas bill would effectively ban safe abortion as early as 14 weeks post-fertilization.
In June, attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of a father-daughter team of OB-GYNs, citing clear scientific evidence that D&E is the safest, most effective and most efficient surgical method for patients in the second trimester. Banning the procedure could force women to undergo an unnecessary, intrusive medical procedure, the plaintiffs said. The suit aimed to have the legislation blocked before it was to take effect on July 1.
On Thursday, Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claim that SB 95 unduly burdens abortion rights. Judge Hendricks also ruled that SB 95 likely violated the Kansas Constitution as well, as it explicitly provides the right to terminate a pregnancy. The order blocking the law will stay in effect while the case proceeds.
“For now, the court has protected Kansas doctors from being thrown behind bars for providing the safe, quality, and individualized care their patients need and deserve,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Women, with their trusted physicians, have a right to make the very personal, private decision to end a pregnancy without political meddling. We will continue fighting this law until it is permanently struck down as a clear violation of women’s rights and the doctor-patient relationship.”
Kansas Governor Brownback (R) signed SB 95 in April 2015 over the objections of local and national medical experts, including over 20 area physicians. A week later, and despite similar outcry from the medical community, Oklahoma Governor Mary Falin (R) signed a nearly identical restriction into law, making her state the second in the nation to enact such a radical ban on D&E procedures.
Drs. Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser, a father-daughter pair who provide abortions in Kansas, served as the plaintiffs in the suit. They argued that the state’s ban on the procedure would force them to choose between providing the safest type of care and putting their patients at risk, saying the law would intrude on the doctor-patient relationship.