More states face legal battles over abortion laws

Texas requires a woman to undergo a sonogram before terminating a pregnancy. A Kansas measure implements stricter licensing requirements for doctors who perform abortions.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted July 18, 2011

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Kansas and Texas have joined the list of at least four states facing lawsuits against state laws requiring stricter regulations for abortion providers and women seeking the procedure.

In Kansas, two ob-gyns filed a federal lawsuit June 28 to block a new law requiring tighter licensing requirements for physicians who perform abortions. The doctors say the new law effectively is an attempt to outlaw abortions in the state by making it too difficult for physicians to obtain licenses.

Meanwhile, the Center for Reproductive Rights on June 13 filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Texas law requiring women seeking abortions first to receive a sonogram and hear a description of the fetus from a physician. The abortion rights group says the ultrasound requirements violate the First Amendment rights of doctors and patients by forcing physicians to deliver politically motivated information to women, regardless of their wishes.

"This law barges in on the doctor-patient relationship," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "When you go to the doctor, you expect to be given information that is relevant to your particular medical decisions and circumstances, not to be held hostage and subjected to an anti-choice agenda."

However, supporters of the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, argue the statute allows women to be better informed before deciding to have an abortion. According to the law, the sonogram must be performed at least 24 hours before an abortion, or at least two hours in the case of those who live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider. Women can decline to view the sonogram or listen to the fetal heartbeat, but they must hear the doctors explain what the sonogram shows, including the fetus's body features.

"When you consider the magnitude of the decision to have an abortion, ensuring that the patient understands what's truly at stake seems a small step to take," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement. "When someone has all the information, the right choice -- the choice of life -- becomes clear."

At a July 6 court hearing, the Center for Reproductive Rights asked for an injunction against the law from U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. The judge did not make an immediate decision, instead requesting additional information from both sides.

Over-regulated physicians?

In Kansas, a federal judge on July 1 temporarily blocked state officials from enforcing the new licensing requirements for abortion providers.

The law mandates that all hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices obtain annual licenses from the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment to perform more than five nonemergency abortions per month. The rules also set minimum sizes and acceptable temperatures for procedure and recovery rooms and require physicians and others to keep certain types of medication and equipment stocked.

The process is designed to "ensure Kansans receive the highest standard of care," said Robert Moser, MD, secretary of the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which also has joined in the suit against the Kansas law, called the judge's injunction against the statute a "tremendous victory for women in Kansas and against the underhanded efforts of anti-choice politicians to shut down abortion providers in the state." Only three abortion providers existed in Kansas when the measure was enacted. The injunction remains in effect until the lawsuit is decided.

Two other legal battles against abortion restrictions continue in South Dakota and Indiana.

Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota sued South Dakota on May 27, challenging a new law requiring women seeking abortions first to undergo pregnancy crisis counseling. The measure also imposes a 72-hour delay for an abortion after a woman's initial consultation with her physician and requires doctors to obtain written proof that the counseling was completed.

In Indiana, Planned Parenthood officials have challenged a law terminating Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Planned Parenthood officials said the loss of funding will leave thousands of low-income patients without access to Pap smears, cancer screenings, birth control and sexually transmitted disease treatment, among other nonabortion services.

A federal district judge on June 24 approved an injunction against the enforcement of the measure until the lawsuit is resolved.

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