Topeka — A Kansas abortion clinic that has been denied a state license asked to join a federal lawsuit Wednesday, hoping to overturn new state rules that could make Kansas the nation’s first state without an office or clinic terminating pregnancies.
A new state law requires the three abortion providers in Kansas to have a special license to perform abortions as of Friday. The Department of Health and Environment’s accompanying regulations tell providers what equipment and drugs they must stock and set space and temperature requirements for procedure and recovery rooms. Supporters say they protect patients, while critics see the rules as an attempt to end abortion services.
The regulations also are set to take effect Friday, but a state rules board must sign off first, an action that’s expected during a meeting today at the Statehouse. The pending lawsuit was filed Tuesday by two doctors, partly because their office received the current version of the rules only last week — less than two weeks before having to comply.
On Wednesday, the corporation that does business as Aid for Women filed a request to intervene in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, where the clinic is located. The health department told Aid for Women last week it wouldn’t receive a license after the clinic acknowledged in its application that it would need extensive renovations to comply with the new rules.
“We’re in it, and we’re going to do what we everything we can to address the unfairness and constitutionality of this process,” said Aid for Women attorney Cheryl Pilate.
Pilate also filed the request to intervene on behalf of Dr. Ronald Yeomans, the clinic’s physician. Yeomans and the clinic asked for expedited handling of the case, arguing delays will hurt women seeking abortions.
A spokeswoman for the health department did not immediately reply to telephone messages seeking comment.
Initiating the lawsuit were Drs. Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser, his daughter, who perform abortions and other services at the Center for Women’s Health in the Kansas City suburb, of Overland Park. The state’s third abortion provider is Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which also has a clinic in Overland Park.
Planned Parenthood has undergone a state inspection and is awaiting word on whether it will get a license, though its officials are considering legal action if they don’t. Hodes’ and Nauser’s center cancelled its state inspection after they filed the lawsuit. Aid for Women was denied a license without an inspection, based on its application.
Abortion-rights supporters don’t trust the licensing process because Gov. Sam Brownback is an anti-abortion Republican, and abortion opponents pushed the law through the GOP-controlled Legislature.
But Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, said Kansas is becoming a leader among states on abortion, with the clinic licensing law among a raft of successful proposals enacted this year.
“What they did this year was phenomenal, in terms of protecting the mother and the unborn child,” she said.
Abortion-rights advocates contend the department is unfairly rushing its regulations, depriving the providers of due legal process. Virginia lawmakers enacted a licensing law late last year, and Utah legislators this spring, but neither state expects to have more detailed regulations in place until next year.
“I think Kansas is at the far end of the extreme,” said Sharon Levin, vice president and general counsel for the National Abortion Federation, the association representing providers. “What Governor Brownback and his appointees are doing in Kansas is a warning sign to all of us.”
Kansas legislators didn’t produce statistics on whether women having abortions were more likely to have serious complications or die than patients having other surgical procedures in clinics or offices. Instead, they argued women seeking abortions are more vulnerable and less likely to report problems to avoid disclosing their procedures.
For years, abortion opponents have occasionally reported ambulance visits to clinics. They’ve cited the 2005 death a patient who’d received an abortion at the Wichita clinic of the late Dr. George Tiller, though the state ultimately said neither he nor his staff was responsible. Also, the state shut down another Kansas City clinic in 2005 after finding unsafe conditions there.
Kansas doesn’t report statistics for abortion-related complications and deaths for women. The new law requires providers to disclose complications to the state within 10 days and deaths, within 24 hours.
“I don’t think you have to prove that some of these facilities are substandard or not,” Balch said. “I think you just have to show the state has in an interest in making sure they are not.”
Federal Centers for Disease Control figures, numbers from the Guttmacher Institute, a New York research institute that supports abortion rights, and 2009 data from Minnesota and Pennsylvania all suggest serious complications or deaths are rare for women who’ve had abortions. Abortion opponents don’t trust such numbers.
A checklist used by state health department inspectors, provided to The Associated Press following an open records request, runs 18 pages and contains more than 200 items.
The health department’s regulations require rooms where abortions are performed to have at least 150 square feet of space, excluding fixed cabinets, and to keep their temperatures between 68 and 73 degrees. Each procedure room also must have its own janitor’s closet with at least 50 sq. feet.
Levin said Kansas has set up an unnecessary regulatory process “designed for people to fail.”
“You can’t really say it’s about patient safety,” she said.