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TOPEKA, Kan. — A Kansas judge on Thursday blocked the state's first-in-the-nation ban on an abortion procedure that opponents refer to as "dismemberment abortion."
The decision from Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks came in a lawsuit filed from the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. The center represents two Kansas abortion providers and argued the law would force women to undergo riskier procedures or forgo abortions.
The judge's order will stay in effect while he considers the lawsuit further. The new law was supposed to take effect July 1.
It bans a second-trimester procedure that anti-abortion activists call "dismemberment abortion" and was model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee. Kansas was the first state to enact it.
The state's lawyers argued that there are safe alternative abortion methods.
The new law would ban doctors from using forceps, clamps, scissors or similar instruments on a live fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. Such instruments are commonly used in dilation and evacuation procedures.
Oklahoma legislators approved a similar measure shortly after Kansas lawmakers did, but their statute takes effect in November.
The Center for Reproductive Rights said the ban applies to a procedure used in 95 percent of second-trimester abortions nationally.
The group is representing Dr. Herbert Hodes and Dr. Traci Nauser, a father and daughter who perform abortions at a health center in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park.
Dilation and evacuation procedures accounted for about 9 percent of all abortions in Kansas last year, according to the state health department. The state already bans most abortions at or after the 22nd week of pregnancy, and 89 percent last year occurred before the 13th week.
The new law would make exceptions to the ban for preserving a woman's life or preventing serious and permanent damage to her physical health. It also wouldn't apply if doctors ensure that the fetus dies before using instruments to remove it from the womb.
The state's lawyers argued that doctors could avoid violating the ban and still perform safe abortions by first giving the fetus a lethal injection or by severing its umbilical cord.
"The Act does not preclude access to safe and effective abortions," the state's lawyers wrote in a recent court filing. "Instead, it simply declares one particularly gruesome and medically unnecessary method of abortion to be beyond society's tolerance level."
But the lawsuit said there have been few studies of the safety of the alternative methods and that lethal injections for the fetus could increase of nausea, vomiting and infection in women.
"The Act is an affront to both patients' right to be free from unnecessary medical procedures and physicians' ability to act in what they believe is the best interests of their patients," the lawsuit said.