Kansas abortion providers sue to stop new state rules

? Two doctors who perform abortions in Kansas filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to block a new licensing law and regulations that abortion rights advocates fear will make Kansas the first state in the country without an abortion provider.

Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, argue that the new licensing process for abortion providers is a “sham” and the law and accompanying regulations are designed to stop the state’s three abortion providers. One provider has already been denied a license.

Hodes and Nauser offer abortions and other services at the Center for Women’s Health in Overland Park in suburban Kansas City, and their clinic was scheduled to be inspected by health department workers Wednesday. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, said the doctors cancelled that inspection.

The law takes effect Friday. If a clinic doesn’t have a license by then, it won’t be able to perform abortions under the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s new regulations.

“At every step of the challenged process, KDHE implemented the licensing provisions … in ways that made it impossible for existing medical practices to obtain a license by the effective date,” the lawsuit said.

Supporters of the new law and regulations argue that both are aimed at protecting patients from substandard care. But abortion providers and their backers don’t trust the licensing process because Gov. Sam Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican who took office in January, and abortion opponents pushed the law through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The law requires abortion providers to obtain annual licenses, and the health department regulations tell providers what drugs and equipment they must have available and set other standards, including the temperatures for procedure and recovery rooms.

Abortion providers contend that the health department is unfairly rushing the new regulations, giving them less than two weeks to comply with specific provisions.

In their lawsuit, Hodes and Nauser argue that the new regulations are stricter than rules for other health care providers. The suit claims the state has violated the rights of their Center for Women’s Health and its doctors to due legal process.

The lawsuit was filed against Robert Moser, the state’s secretary of health and environment; Attorney General Derek Schmidt, whose office was involved in drafting the regulations; and the local prosecutor, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri is awaiting word on whether its clinic, also in Overland Park, will receive a license after a two-day inspection last week. The health department has denied a license for the state’s other abortion provider, the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City, Kan., without an inspection, based on information in its application.

Planned Parenthood and Aid for Women also have been contemplating lawsuits against the licensing law and the health department’s regulations.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, was confident the law and the regulations would withstand judicial scrutiny. She said the regulations are similar to rules in South Carolina that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand in 2003.

“Kansas abortion clinics claim that the state’s attempt at oversight is ‘political’ because of Governor Brownback, but their hypocrisy is on full display,” she said. “Three South Carolina abortion clinics have managed to live with the same law there for over a decade.”