ACLU Allowed To Proceed With Challenge to Kan. Abortion Coverage Law

April 2, 2012 — A federal judge on Thursday said the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri may continue with its challenge to a Kansas law that restricts private insurance coverage of abortion, the AP/ Lawrence Journal-World reports (Hegeman, AP/ Lawrence Journal-World, 3/31).

The law, which took effect on July 1, prohibits health plans from covering abortion care unless the procedure is needed to save a woman's life, although insurers are allowed to offer stand-alone policies for abortion coverage. It also bans the sale of abortion coverage through health insurance exchanges that will be established under the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/12).

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson rejected the state's request to dismiss ACLU's lawsuit. ACLU argues that the law discriminates against women by forcing them to buy a separate policy to meet their health needs, whereas men can buy comprehensive coverage.

Robinson said ACLU could present an argument at trial that the law imposes an undue burden on women by creating an obstacle to abortion care. The organization contends that the law's intent is to prevent women from obtaining abortions. Robinson wrote in her ruling that that "argument gets closer to the heart of the issue -- namely, whether the means used by the state of Kansas to further its interests, including its interest in protecting potential life, can be considered legitimate in view of the individual liberty."

She added that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the undue burden standard is the suitable means of reconciling the state's interest in potential human life with the woman's right to have an abortion. Robinson also noted that the Supreme Court has not specified how equal protection arguments -- a central part of ACLU's lawsuit -- apply to abortion-related cases.

According to the Journal-World, Robinson's comments provide insight into her legal reasoning in the case, which she took over after the death of U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown earlier this year. Brown previously declined to block enforcement of the law, but he said ACLU could continue to pursue the suit (AP/Lawrence Journal-World, 3/31).