Planned Parenthood says it will receive abortion license, expects to withdraw federal lawsuit

This photo shows a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park Wednesday, June 22, 2011. Planned Parenthood confirmed Thursday that the clinic had received a license to continue performing abortions under Kansas' new regulations for abortion providers.

? Kansas avoided becoming the first state in the country without an abortion provider by granting Planned Parenthood a license Thursday to continue performing abortions under new regulations being challenged in federal court.

The new rules from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment tell abortion providers what drugs and equipment they must have on hand, how big some of their rooms must be and the specific temperatures allowed in procedure and recovery rooms. The department is imposing them under a new licensing law that takes effect today.

The licensing law is part of an unprecedented surge of anti-abortion legislation that has advanced through Republican-controlled legislatures in many states. Collectively, the measures create an array of new obstacles — legal, financial and psychological — for women seeking abortions and doctors performing them.

Kansas has three abortion providers, all in the Kansas City area, and two of them haven’t obtained licenses and can’t legally perform abortions until a federal court intervenes. A hearing in a federal lawsuit involving the other providers besides Planned Parenthood was scheduled for today in Kansas City.

Ahead of that hearing, the attorney general’s office argued in a filing Thursday evening that the license for Planned Parenthood undercuts other providers’ arguments that the regulations eliminate access to abortion. The filing included a copy of the license.

Bonnie Scott Jones, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights replied: “That’s certainly better than no one being open, but it’s certainly not enough to meet the needs of the women of Kansas.”

Supporters believe the rules and the licensing law will protect patients. Abortion-rights advocates see them as deliberately burdensome and didn’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.

Some abortion opponents anticipated the possibility of an “abortion-free” Kansas. Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, reacted to the possibility that Planned Parenthood would fail to get a license with, “Praise Jesus.”

“There are still two other abortion mills that cannot meet compliance,” Newman said. “That is a two-thirds reduction and I will take an accumulated victory every chance we get them.”

But Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator for the National Organization for Women, decried the “continued harassment of women through the legislative process.”

“Any delay or any interruption on abortion services has an immediate and direct impact on the women who are waiting for those services,” she said.

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said Thursday its clinic in Overland Park had received its license after initially being denied. State inspectors returned to the clinic Thursday after a two-day review last week.

“It confirms what we knew all along, that we provide high-quality health care,” Brownlie said. “We’re glad to be able to keep meeting the needs of our patients.”

Among other things, the Kansas regulations require rooms where abortions are performed to have at least 150 sq. 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.

Legislators concluded women seeking abortions are more vulnerable than other patients because they’re less likely to report problems out of fear of disclosing unwanted pregnancies.

They didn’t have or compile hard data that women seeking abortions face a higher risk of serious complications than patients having surgical procedures in clinics or doctor’s office. Anti-abortion groups say reporting of problems is inadequate; abortion rights supporters contend existing data suggesting problems are rare confirm that abortion is safe.

Tactics of other states that have passed anti-abortion legislation have varied: mandatory sonograms and anti-abortion counseling, sweeping limits on insurance coverage, bans on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Kansas has such restrictions, some also enacted this year.

In South Dakota, lawmakers passed legislation requiring women seeking abortions to face a three-day waiting period and undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortion. A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the new law, saying that Planned Parenthood had demonstrated that it and its specified provisions are “likely” unconstitutional.

Abortion providers protested both the content and the timing of the Kansas rules, arguing that they’re being imposed so quickly that their right to due process is being violated.

They received the current version of the standards earlier this month, with less than two weeks to comply with them. The department argued that the law, signed in mid-May by Brownback, forced a fast track.

Besides Planned Parenthood, the state’s other abortion providers are the Center for Women’s Health, also in Overland Park, and the Aid for Women clinic, in Kansas City.

Two physicians at the women’s center filed the first federal lawsuit against the Kansas regulations and licensing law earlier this week, and Aid for Women asked to intervene. Friday’s court hearing is in that case.

Aid for Women was denied a license without an inspection after acknowledging in its application that its clinic would require extensive renovations to comply with the new rules. The women’s center cancelled its inspection after its doctors filed their lawsuit.

Planned Parenthood had been certain enough that its clinic wouldn’t be granted the license — unfairly, it said — that it filed its own lawsuit Thursday in federal court.

The filing came only hours after a Republican-controlled state board unanimously allowed the health department to impose its rules as quickly as it wanted. The health department does plan to have a public hearing on the regulations Sept. 7 in Topeka and consider changes.

Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit said it was denied a license Monday but that it was still in contact with the health department, attempting to assure state officials that the clinic would comply with the new regulations.

The state health department would only confirm that one of Kansas’ three abortion providers would receive a license by Friday, but it would not name the provider.

Brownlie said Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit would be withdrawn now that the clinic had gotten the license.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said Planned Parenthood had engaged in “theatrics.”

“They wanted to garner worldwide headlines, all along knowing they could get their license with fairly simple compliance and not miss one day of abortion business,” she said.