A federal judge temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing new abortion regulations Friday that would have prevented two of the state's three abortion providers from continuing to terminate pregnancies.
U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia's injunction will remain in effect until a trial is held in a lawsuit challenging the Kansas rules. A new licensing law and state health department regulations had taken effect Friday, and abortion providers were given the latest version of those regulations less than two weeks ago.
The new law requires hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices to obtain an annual license from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to perform more than five non-emergency abortions in a month. The regulations tell abortion providers what drugs and equipment they must stock and, among other things, establish minimum sizes and acceptable temperatures for procedure and recovery rooms.
In blocking the law, Murguia said evidence presented in court documents showed the providers would "suffer irreparable harm" through the loss of business and patients, and that at least two women currently seeking abortions would be harmed by not being able to go to the provider of their choice.
The licensing law was part of a wave of anti-abortion measures enacted this year by Kansas and other states with new Republican governors or GOP-dominated legislatures. Utah and Virginia are also imposing new regulations on abortion providers, but Kansas moved with unusual speed to enact its rules by Friday — a major issue in the lawsuit.
Supporters contend the new Kansas regulations will protect patients from substandard care. But abortion-rights advocates never trusted the licensing process because new Gov. Sam Brownback is a strong abortion opponent, and anti-abortion groups have advocated such rules for years.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this week by two doctors who perform abortions and provide other services at the Center for Women's Health, in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. A second clinic, Aid for Women in Kansas City, was allowed to intervene in the case. Neither has received a license.
The state's third abortion provider, a Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri clinic in Overland Park, received a license Thursday.
The Kansas attorney general's office argued that the Planned Parenthood license disproved claims by abortion-rights advocates that the state's new rules were designed to cut off access to abortion rather than protect patients.
Attorneys for the other providers argued that even with Planned Parenthood's clinic allowed to perform abortions, the needs of all patients wouldn't be met.
Murguia, a University of Kansas law school graduate, was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, an abortion rights Democrat.