Crime & Courts

1 abortion-related lawsuit moving ahead, 1 slows down

TOPEKA — A federal lawsuit over a new Kansas law restricting private health insurance coverage for abortions appeared to be moving forward quickly Friday, but a separate suit challenging new rules for abortion providers was slowing down after the state won a temporary halt to evidence-gathering.

The insurance law and the new clinic regulations were among several major anti-abortion initiatives approved by Kansas legislators and signed into law this year by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican who called upon lawmakers to create "a culture of life" after taking office in January.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit earlier this month over the insurance law, which prohibits private companies from offering coverage of elective abortions as part of their regular health plans. As of July 1, people who want such coverage must purchase separate, abortion-only policies.

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Kenneth Gale, in Wichita, scheduled a hearing for Sept. 16 on the ACLU's request that enforcement of the law be blocked until the matter is settled at trial. Gale will make a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown, also in Wichita. The hearing was set shortly after the 104-year-old Brown referred the case to Gale.

Doug Bonney, an ACLU attorney in Kansas City, Mo., said the group is pleased with the relatively quick scheduling of a hearing. The Attorney General's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the state health department hasn't been allowed since July 1 to enforce its clinic regulations, which tell abortion providers which drugs and equipment they must stock and set minimum sizes and temperatures for some rooms. Two of the state's three abortion providers are challenging the rules, and U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia, in Kansas City, has put them on hold until a trial on that lawsuit.

But this week, U.S. Magistrate Karen Humphreys, in Wichita, ordered a temporary halt to evidence-gathering until she can consider the state's request for a longer stop. The attorney general's office noted in court filings that the clinic regulations remain in effect only until Oct. 29, when they're due to be replaced by another identical set still being reviewed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The abortion providers' attorneys filed a notice last month that they intended to question health department officials and members of the attorney general's staff in September. Those to be interviewed include Joseph Kroll, the director of the KDHE bureau that drafted the regulations, and KDHE Secretary Robert Moser.

They also notified the court that the health department and attorney general's office had received a list of questions and a demand to produce documents. The filings showed the providers' attorneys want to question officials about how they researched their regulations.

But in filings earlier this month, lawyers for the attorney general's office said some of the interviews and material gathered could be irrelevant once the new regulations are in place.

The health department enacted its regulations as "temporary" rules so that they could be in place by July 1, before a public hearing set for Sept. 7. The department will consider possible changes after the hearing.