Bill toughening regulation of abortion clinics

? Anti-abortion activists and legislators expect to gain easy House approval for a bill they’re pushing to set minimum health and safety standards for abortion clinics.

House members gave the measure first-round approval on an 83-35 vote Friday. Final action is expected Monday, when passage would send the bill to the Senate.

Similar legislation died in the Senate last year. Both chambers passed a clinic regulation bill in 2003, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who supports abortion rights.

Under the bill, the state Department of Health and Environment would regulate clinics, setting guidelines for cleanliness, required equipment and the use of anesthesia.

“Our intent is to keep the public — women — safe,” said Rep. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee, a supporter. “What good is it to make abortion legal, only to have legal back-alley abortions?”

However, abortion rights advocates are suspicious of the legislation and worry that anti-abortion groups are hoping to make regulations burdensome enough to shut down some clinics.

“They’re just trying to make it harder for women to seek a legal medical procedure,” said Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “They’re just trying to harass women.”

Currently, abortion clinic doctors are regulated by the state Board of Healing Arts. But the clinics themselves — such as doctors’ offices and clinics performing minor surgeries under local anesthesia — aren’t regulated.

The health department does regulate hospitals and outpatient surgery clinics, however. The bill would require KDHE to set minimum standards for abortion clinics.

But some requirements would be spelled out in state law. For example:

— A clinic’s medical director would have to be licensed as a surgeon.

— A nurse or physician’s assistant would have to remain in the clinic when abortions are performed.

— Someone trained to resuscitate patients whose hearts stop would have to remain at the clinic while any patients were present.

— Clinics would be required to have life support and other emergency equipment.

— Clinics would have to offer patients a medical exam within four weeks of an abortion.

Sebelius has said she would sign a bill if it applied to all clinics performing minor surgeries, not just abortion clinics. Anti-abortion activists say such a proposal would be too expensive and that abortions are more serious than most minor surgeries.