Kansas abortion law faces legal challenge

The ACLU says the measure, which prevents insurers from covering the procedure in their regular health plans, intrudes in the personal lives of patients.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Sept. 2, 2011

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The American Civil Liberties Union on Aug. 16 sued the Kansas Insurance Commissioner, challenging a law prohibiting insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their comprehensive health plans. The measure interferes with the private medical decisions of patients, the ACLU said in the suit.

The law, signed in May by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, prevents insurers from offering regular coverage for any abortion other than a procedure needed to save a woman's life. Separate insurance policies for abortion coverage can be purchased by women or employers at an additional cost. The law also prevents any state or federal health insurance exchange established under the federal health system reform law from covering an abortion unless it is to save a woman's life.

Supporters of the measure say it protects employers who oppose abortions from being forced to pay for insurance plans that cover the procedures.

Critics point out that the law makes no exceptions for women who become pregnant through incest or rape. The law also bars coverage for the treatment of miscarriages, they said.

"This law is part of a nationwide trend to take away insurance coverage for a legal medical procedure that is an important part of basic health care for women," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, which offers litigation assistance and advocacy to abortion rights groups. "Many things can happen in a pregnancy that are beyond a woman's control, so having insurance coverage for abortion ensures that every woman can get the health care she may need."

At this article's deadline, Brownback's office had not returned calls seeking comment. The Republican governor has been vocal about his anti-abortion stance, signing into law several other abortion-restriction measures this year.

A spokesman for Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, the defendant in the lawsuit, said the legal complaint is under review. He declined to comment on the case.

Since 2010, at least 13 states have enacted similar measures banning some or all insurance policies from covering abortion care. The Kansas lawsuit is the first to challenge one of these laws.

Legal challenges continue across the nation against other recently enacted state abortion restrictions.

On Aug. 18, the ACLU sued Arizona lawmakers challenging a measure that excludes nonprofit organizations that provide abortion referrals or counseling from receiving donations through the state's Working Poor Tax Credit Program. The program allows taxpayers to claim a credit on state tax returns if they make donations to organizations that serve low-income Arizona residents.

Meanwhile, a U.S. district court judge on Aug. 30 struck down key provisions of a Texas law requiring doctors to perform sonograms on pregnant women, describe the scans to them and play audio of the fetal heartbeat at least 24 hours before the women can obtain abortions. In issuing the injunction against the bulk of the law, the judge said the provisions are unconstitutional because they would force doctors to tell women information they did not want to hear and that was not medically relevant to the patients.

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