updated 4/18/2006 8:27:09 PM ET 2006-04-19T00:27:09

In a victory for an abortion rights group, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that abortion clinic doctors and other professionals are not required under Kansas law to report underage sex between consenting youths.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten was a setback for Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an abortion foe.

Kline contended a 1982 Kansas law requiring doctors, teachers and others to alert the state and law enforcement about potential child abuse covers consensual sex between minors. He argued that the law applies to abortion clinics, and later extended that to other health professionals and teachers.

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged that interpretation in court, and the judge sided with the organization. Kline said he had not decided whether to appeal.

“It’s not unexpected,” Kline said. “It’s what we’ve been predicting.”

Marten ruled that a plain reading of the Kansas law gives health care providers discretion to determine whether there is reason to suspect a child has been injured as a result of sexual abuse.

The attorney general’s office had contended the law required mandatory reporting because sex is inherently harmful to underage children. In Kansas, the age of consent is 16.

Health professionals must be able to work in confidence to appropriately treat young patients, the judge wrote.

“This case certainly is not about promoting sexual promiscuity among underage persons,” he wrote. “Each and every witness testified that underage sex should be discouraged. No witness suggested that sexual intercourse under the age of 12 should not be reported.”

The law “recognizes that sexual activity among underage persons occurs, and that any such activity that injures the minor will be reported,” the judge wrote.

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