January 8, 2013 — A federal judge on Monday ordered a trial to resolve whether a Kansas law restricting abortion coverage in private health plans imposes a substantial burden on women seeking abortions, the AP/Huffington Post reports. A two-day hearing is set for March 18 in federal court in Topeka.
The law prohibits abortion coverage in general private health plans, except when a woman's life is in danger, and requires employers or consumers who want abortion coverage to buy separate riders (Hegeman, AP/Huffington Post, 1/7).
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri filed a claim asking U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson to strike down the law. The group argued, "The Act does nothing to inform a woman's choice; rather it obstructs it. It also does nothing to protect a woman's health; in fact, it endangers it. It does not reduce the cost of health insurance in any meaningful way. Nor does it have anything to do with ensuring that individuals are not forced to 'subsidize the cost' of another person's abortion or any of the other rationalizations Defendant has conjured up" (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/10/12).
The group also argued that lawmakers' primary purpose in passing the legislation was to impede access to abortion and that many women cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for the procedure, meaning that they have to delay the procedure until later in pregnancy -- when it is more risky -- while they save up money.
Details of Monday's Ruling
Robinson ruled that there is no evidence to support ACLU of KSWMO's argument that the Legislature's primary motivation was to hinder access to abortion. However, she said a trial is necessary to determine whether requiring women to cover the full cost of the procedure infringes on their federal right to an abortion.
Robinson noted that abortion services can cost between $450 and $1,675 at a clinic and more than $10,000 at a hospital. She wrote, "This increased cost to women seeking an abortion ... creates a genuine issue of material fact concerning the existence of an impact on women seeking an abortion in Kansas."
The judge also noted that prior to the law's passage, private insurers constituting 70% of the market share in Kansas offered abortion coverage in their general health plans. Between July 2010 and July 2011, the market's three major insurers paid claims for 137 abortions.
ACLU Attorney Brigitte Amiri wrote in an email that the group plans to "carefully" review the decision and "then determine next steps."
The Kansas attorney general's office said in an email statement that it was "encouraged by the court's ruling and will continue to defend the state law" (AP/Huffington Post, 1/7).
Repro Health Watch — an exciting new edition of the Women’s Health Policy Report — compiles and distributes media coverage of proposed and enacted state laws and ballot initiatives affecting women's access to comprehensive reproductive health care, as well as litigation in response to those provisions.