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Anti-Abortion Bills Stalled by Federal Courts across the Nation

The controversial Kansas abortion bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill No. 36, which creates stricter licensing requirements and regulations for abortion providers, was stalled this month when a federal court placed injunctions on the legislation. Injunctions on abortion bills also sprung up in other states with conservative-dominated legislators.  In Indiana and North Carolina, federal judges placed injunctions on laws that aim to defund Planned Parenthood, while injunctions were similarly placed on laws restricting access to abortion in South Dakota and Texas.  With few other options to provide opposition to strong conservative legislators who have faced little opposition since their gains in power in the 2010 elections, these court-ordered injunctions have provided reproductive rights advocates with much-needed footing.[1]
 
Abortion restrictions as well as removal of funding for Planned Parenthood have long been contentious issues in Kansas, which is a particularly conservative state when it comes to abortion rights. Previous legislation such as 2009’s Women’s Right to Know Act, has made it more difficult for women to access abortions.[2]  The current legislation under scrutiny, developed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), would create strict regulations for abortion providers that appear to have no medical purpose.  These include measures such as imposing size and temperature requirements for the procedure room and separate changing areas for patients and staff. “The regulations are riddled with requirements which do nothing to improve the safety and health of women,” said Peter B. Brownlie of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.[3]  Of Kansas’s three clinics that provide abortions, two would no longer be qualified to perform abortions under such law unless they rebuilt their facilities.[4]
 
Drs. Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser of Kansas’s Center for Women’s Health filed the first federal lawsuit against the restrictions and continue to highlight that the regulations do not serve a medical purpose, but rather their intention is to completely restrict abortion by limiting licensing of abortion providers.  Dr. Hodes emphasizes that these restrictions are medically unnecessary and are “out of date with modern medicine.”[5]  While this lawsuit has prevented the regulations from taking effect, Kansas plans to move ahead and issue permanent regulations by October.[6]
 
Although these injunctions provide some strength to reproductive-rights advocates and are seen as a relative success, frustration is still felt towards the conservative stronghold’s debilitating effects on abortion providers.  “I find it irresponsible that publicly elected officials are passing legislation that they should know is illegal and wasting taxpayer dollars going to court to defend things that are not defensible,” said Mr. Brownlie.[7]
 
Further concern arose because the focus of this issue has been political, rather than an emphasis on women’s health. “This entire process has been politicized from the beginning.  It has nothing to do with the health and safety of women,” said Kari Ann Rinker, Kansas state coordinator for the National Organization for Women.[8]  Still, the courts have long played a role in determining abortion rights, and with such conservative-heavy state legislators, such as Kansas’s 124-to-41 supermajority, the federal courts’ participation provides the first effort to slow conservatives down and hope for reproductive health advocates that there will be a return of focus on women’s health.[9]
 
 
 

[1]A. G. Sulzberger, “Courts Put the Brakes on Agenda of G.O.P.,” The New York Times, 5 September 2011, accessed 13 September 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/06/us/06legal.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=courts%20put%20the%20brakes%20on%20agenda%20of%20gop&st=cse.
[2] A. G. Sulzberger and Monica Davey, “New Law in Kansas Seen as a Threat to Abortions,” The New York Times, 24 June 2011, accessed 13 September 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/us/25kansas.html.
[3] Kathy Lohr, “Public Hearing Addresses Kansas Abortion Rules,” NPR, 8 September 2011, accessed 13 September 2011, http://www.npr.org/2011/09/08/140279178/public-hearing-brings-out-both-sides-to-kansas-abortion-debate.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Sulzberger and Davey, “New Law in Kansas.”
[6] Lohr, “Public Hearing.”
[7] Sulzberger, “Courts Put the Brakes on.”
[8] Associated Press, “Kansas state officials continue working on new rules for abortion providers,” 6 September 2011, accessed 13 September 2011, http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2011/sep/06/kansas-state-officials-continue-working-new-rules-/?kansas_legislature.
[9] Ibid.

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