Kansas legal bill on abortion laws tops $1 million

1/22/2014

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas has paid private law firms slightly more than $1 million to defend anti-abortion laws enacted during the past three years, the attorney general's office confirmed Wednesday, while abortion opponents staged a big rally and an unusual demonstration of fetal ultrasound technology at the Statehouse.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas has paid private law firms slightly more than $1 million to defend anti-abortion laws enacted during the past three years, the attorney general's office confirmed Wednesday, while abortion opponents staged a big rally and an unusual demonstration of fetal ultrasound technology at the Statehouse.

Hundreds of abortion opponents converged on the Capitol to mark the 41st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the nation.

A meeting of the state Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee also created a buzz because Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and strong abortion opponent, arranged ultrasound tests for two pregnant women. The women remained behind a blue screen with results displayed on a large television monitor.

Kansas has enacted a raft of new restrictions since Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, also strong abortion opponent, took office in January 2011. Abortion providers have responded with multiple federal and state lawsuits.

Litigation costs include $179,000 in attorneys' fees and expenses associated with federal and state lawsuits filed over restrictions enacted just last year. Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office disclosed the figures exclusively at the request of The Associated Press.

Abortion rights groups have portrayed the state's expenses in defending anti-abortion laws in court as costs that could have been avoided, draining resources from social services or education. But some abortion opponents expect the restrictions to eventually be upheld and argue that they're preserving lives and helping women who face crisis pregnancies.

Dale Porter, a Paxico resident who attended the rally with his wife, Natalie, and their nine children ages 5 1/2 months to 11 years, said the costs are "absolutely worth it."

"We're trying to protect innocent human beings who are under the threat of having their lives taken away," Porter said as his youngest child, Benedict, squirmed under a warm blanket in his father's arms. "When we have a just cause, there's no problem using an enormous amount of resources."

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which performs abortions at a suburban Kansas City clinic, said the money could be better spent on "real needs," such as health care, education and economic development.

While Kansas has enacted sweeping limits on abortion and providers since Brownback took office, it hasn't attempted to ban abortions in the earliest weeks of pregnancies, as in Arkansas and North Dakota. The newest Kansas restrictions, challenged in separate state and federal lawsuits last summer, block tax breaks for abortion providers and govern what appears on their websites.

A state lawsuit is still pending against health and safety regulations approved in 2011 specifically for abortion clinics, but the state prevailed in a federal lawsuit against 2011 restrictions on private health insurance coverage for elective abortions. All of those cases have been handled by the firm of Thompson Ramsdell & Qualseth of Lawrence.

A federal lawsuit against a 2011 law preventing the state from distributing federal family planning dollars to Planned Parenthood to provide non-abortion services is before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. That case has been handled by Foulston Siefkin, the state's largest law firm, which has offices in Wichita, Topeka and Overland Park.

"It's truly unfortunate for the state of Kansas and Kansas taxpayers that our governor and our state continue to waste money," Brownlie said.

Abortion rights supporters kept a low profile Wednesday, as they often do on the Roe anniversary. Brownlie, who was not at the Statehouse, criticized the rally as "political theater," and said the ultrasound demonstration "borders on ludicrous."

"The fact that there's political theater going on in the Statehouse actually shows what's wrong," Brownlie said. "Medical decisions need to be made by women and their doctors."

Pilcher-Cook said afterward that the demonstration informed the committee about science and increasingly portable medical technology.

During the rally, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a conservative western Kansas Republican, compared the Roe decision to the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857 protecting slavery before the Civil War.

"History is on our side," Huelskamp said.

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