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Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Board postpones decision on rules for minor surgeries

March 30, 2005

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— A state board isn't yet ready to approve new regulations covering certain surgeries that abortion opponents feared would give Gov. Kathleen Sebelius political cover to veto a bill strengthening regulation of abortion clinics.

The Board of Healing Arts on Tuesday night postponed for at least three months a decision on new regulations covering surgeries that require anesthesia but occur in clinics or doctor's offices, rather than hospitals or surgical centers. Some board members said they wanted time to study new rules, and the delay will permit a public hearing.

Anti-abortion groups had worried board action would give Sebelius an excuse to veto a bill they are pushing to set minimum health and safety standards for abortion clinics -- and some of Sebelius' fellow Democrats a reason to help sustain her veto.

Sebelius, who supports abortion rights, has said repeatedly she is unlikely to sign a bill targeting only abortion clinics. She vetoed a similar bill in 2003.

The board discussed rules for all office-based surgeries only a day before House members were expected to vote on sending the abortion clinic bill to Sebelius.

In 2003, the board suggested guidelines for clinics and doctor's offices, leaving open the possibility it could later make those standards mandatory.

"It has only a peripheral connection to the recently trumpeted issues in the news," said Roger Warren, a Hanover physician and vice president of the board.

Kathy Ostrowski, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group, said the board's hesitancy in adopting new regulations demonstrated the need for the abortion clinic bill.

"While they dicker and dicker around, these little immigrants and poor women are getting butchered," Ostrowski said. "They don't have any less right than anybody else to a facility that's clean."

The board's meeting came amid a continuing debate over conditions at the state's seven abortion clinics, with anti-abortion groups arguing the state doesn't do enough to protect women's health. Abortion rights supporters worry clinic regulation is designed to restrict access to the procedure.

One incident frequently cited by anti-abortion activists is the Jan. 13 death of a 19-year-old Texas woman who received services at the Wichita clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller. His clinic is the site of protests because he performs late-term procedures.

The board began investigating two weeks after the woman's death, but an autopsy hasn't been completed. Last week, Larry Buening, the board's executive director, told Sebelius in a letter that the board couldn't finish its review until the cause of death is known.

But, Buening wrote, "The death did not occur at the clinic."

Buening also wrote that a law regulating abortion clinics -- like the one Sebelius vetoed in 2003 -- "would not have had any bearing on the patient's outcome."

His letter became public Tuesday, but anti-abortion activists put little stock in its assessment of legislation on abortion clinics.

The Senate approved the bill aimed at abortion clinics last week. The House had approved it earlier but must consider a technical change made by senators, something that's considered a formality.

The bill would require clinics to obtain an annual license from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which would have to set standards for proper equipment and cleanliness.

The board's guidelines for office-based surgeries were developed from standards drafted by the Kansas Medical Society and the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

For example, those guidelines say an office or clinic should have someone trained to revive patients on duty whenever a patient is present and that premises should be "neat and clean."

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