by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As Kansans prepared to give thanks last November, the courts handed down a ruling that was anything but a blessing.
The day before Thanksgiving, a district court ruling made it possible for chemical abortions to be done throughout the state without a doctor visit via the practice of telemedicine. Kansas abortion rates are expected to soar because of this and other court rulings.
On Nov. 23, 2022, Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa L. Watson granted a temporary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of parts of the Telemedicine Act of 2018 and K.S.A. 65-4a10, which prohibit chemical abortions done through the method of telemedicine.
Telemedicine, also known as telehealth, is a way of doing health care and related activities at a distance without an in-person office visit with a doctor. It is primarily done online with internet access — such as a video chat — or over a telephone.
The lawsuit that led to this ruling was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Trust Women Wichita, an abortion clinic founded in 2013. The plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction preventing enforcement of the law, which was rejected. The plaintiffs appealed and the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling, which forced Judge Watson to grant the temporary injunction.
Ruling not unexpected
The ruling was not unexpected in the wake of the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling that found a right to abortion in the 1859 Kansas Constitution, and the failure in August 2022 of the “Value Them Both” amendment vote, which would have overturned the high court’s ruling.
“This ruling and the new extreme legal landscape for abortion access in Kansas are a direct and devastating attack on women, authentic women’s health, and preborn babies,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“To women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy — no matter what the circumstances — there are a great many Kansans across this state standing by right now, ready to offer you life-giving options,” he added. “We will not abandon moms and babies to the abortion industry.”
In the months leading up to the “Value Them Both” vote, the state’s abortion industry argued that the proposed amendment was unnecessary because of Kansas’ strong pro-life laws. At the same time, however, the abortion industry was working to eliminate those laws — including the Telemedicine Act.
“We contended during the ‘Value Them Both’ campaign that these and other reasonable, common-sense regulations on the abortion industry designed to protect women and preborn babies were in grave danger,” said Lucrecia Nold, policy specialist for the Kansas Catholic Conference. “This ruling confirms the reality of that fear. There is no doubt that the path is clear to successfully block or challenge each abortion law or regulation in Kansas.”
The “Value Them Both” amendment vote was intended to protect existing pro-life laws, said Deb Niesen, archdiocesan lead consultant for pro-life ministries.
Since the proposed constitutional amendment’s defeat, the abortion industry has begun to systematically dismantle Kansas’ pro-life laws through the courts, Niesen said. So far, three have been eliminated: the ban on live dismemberment abortions; abortion facility licensing and inspection; and now the telemedicine abortion law.
Following last November’s ruling by the Shawnee County District Court, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains (CHPPGP) began telemedicine chemical abortions.
According to a CHPPGP press release, patients seeking telemedicine chemical abortions will be seen in-person at one of their three facilities in Kansas “to complete consent requirements and an evaluation, but the telehealth physician may be in any state where abortion is legal.”
CHPPGP relied on flying in doctors to meet women at its facilities, but “with the Shawnee District court ruling . . . this is no longer necessary.”
Risks of chemical abortions
Although CHPPGP has called chemical abortions “a safe and effective method of ending an early pregnancy,” Jeanne Gawdun of Kansans for Life pointed to significant risks to women through telemedicine chemical abortions. She called it “bad medicine all around.”
“There are a number of reasons why the [Kansas] legislators and the people of Kansas who supported this ban on telemedicine abortions felt it was protective of women,” said Gawdun.
The Food and Drug Administration recommended that these abortion pills not be taken past 10 weeks, but women don’t always know precisely how far along they are in their pregnancy, said Gawdun. A woman who takes the abortion pills with an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy (in the fallopian tube and not the womb) are at risk of a life-threatening fallopian tube rupture. And there are other complications that can arise with chemical abortions, including severe bleeding.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute published a fact sheet in July 2022 outlining several dangers of chemical abortions to women, said Gawdun.
The big question now is: “Where do we go from here?”
“From a pro-life perspective, we are limited in what we can do through public policy and laws [because of court rulings],” said Niesen, “but I know that the Kansas Catholic Conference and others are still working [through the legislative process] to increase protections for women.
“But as Archbishop Naumann said, what we can’t do through the law we will do through love. We’ll continue helping women facing difficult pregnancies through our Walking With Moms initiative, support for pregnancy resource centers and the Gabriel Project ministry.
“The fact is women choose abortion because they are without hope. We must feed them hope and provide support so these women can make life-affirming decisions for themselves and their children.”
A new website has been created to help women locate and use pregnancy resource centers across Kansas at: www.HelpingKansasWomen.org.