Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Monday over a provision in Kansas' next state budget that prevents the organization from receiving federal family planning funding, marking the first of what could be several legal challenges to policies successfully pushed by abortion opponents this year.
The lawsuit comes as Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri awaits word from the state about whether it will receive a license to continue performing abortions after Friday in Kansas. Its clinic was inspected last week under a separate state law that recently set up a special licensing process for abortion providers, and one of Kansas' three providers has already been denied a license.
Abortion rights advocates fear that none of the three will get a license, making Kansas the first state in the nation without an abortion provider. Other new Kansas laws taking effect Friday restrict private health insurance coverage for most abortions, require doctors to obtain written consent from parents before terminating minors' pregnancies and tighten restrictions on abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy, based on the disputed claim that a fetus can feel pain.
"The climate is one of sustained assaults on the fundamental rights of women to health care," Peter Brownlie, the Planned Parenthood chapter's president and chief executive officer, said during a news conference.
The Planned Parenthood lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., challenges a budget provision that requires the state's portion of federal family planning dollars go first to public health departments and hospitals. It leaves no money for Planned Parenthood and similar groups. Planned Parenthood expects the provision to cost it about $331,000.
The lawsuit alleges the provision violates the organization's rights to free speech and legal due process. It was filed against Gov. Sam Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican who took office in January, and Robert Moser, his secretary of health and environment.
The measure is less far-reaching than a plan enacted in Indiana that cuts off Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood. A federal judge has blocked that law, saying Indiana can't deny funds for general health services such as breast exams and Pap tests just because Planned Parenthood also performs abortions.
Still, Planned Parenthood contends that Kansas' budget provision will do "significant and irreparable harm" to men and women seeking family planning services. Planned Parenthood offers abortion services in Kansas only at its clinic in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb, but also has clinics in Wichita and Hays that serve about 5,700 patients.
Its lawsuit argues that the budget provision represents a punishment for publicly advocating abortion rights.
"We rely on the legislative record and the public comments of the various public officials," Brownlie said. "Its intent was to defund Planned Parenthood."
But backers of the budget provision argue that Kansas residents who oppose abortion shouldn't be forced to have their tax dollars subsidize abortions.
"Kansas taxpayers have made it clear they do not wish to underwrite organizations that perform abortions," Brownback said in a statement. The governor later said the provision was among many enacted to help keep the state budget balanced and that Planned Parenthood doesn't qualify for family planning dollars "because of its business practices."
Planned Parenthood maintains that it keeps abortion services separate from other services, such as family planning, though abortion opponents contend any state funds ultimately help support the chapter's clinic in Overland Park.
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said it makes little sense to give family planning dollars to Planned Parenthood since it can make money terminating unwanted pregnancies if it fails to prevent them.
"They evidently think they have a right to it because they've had it so long, but it's taxpayer money," Culp said.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood and the state's two other abortion providers, also in the Kansas City area, have been considering legal challenges to the clinic licensing law and the accompanying regulations. Among other things, those regulations list drugs and equipment they must have on hand, set allowable temperatures in procedure and recovery rooms, and establish the minimum size for procedure rooms. The licensing law mandates annual state inspections, including at least one unannounced visit.
Three health department inspectors spent two days examining Planned Parenthood's clinic in Overland Park last week, while the Women's Health Center, also in Overland Park, has an inspection set for Wednesday. The state's third provider, the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City, was denied a license without being inspected after disclosing on its application that its building would need extensive renovations to meet the regulations, the latest version of which were released only last week.
The rules are considered temporary, in effect for only four months, until the state health department can take public comments and consider changes.
"I'm not expecting them to change anything," said Dr. Herbert Hodes, who performs abortions at the Women's Health Center.
The lawsuit is Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri v. Sam Brownback and Robert Moser, No. 11-cv-2357 JTM/DJW.
U.S. District Court for Kansas: http://www.ksd.uscourts.gov/
Planned Parenthood chapter: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/kansas-mid-missouri/
Kansas Department of Health and Environment: http://www.kdheks.gov/
Kansans for Life: http://www.kfl.org