Topeka Kansas officials are still trying to move ahead with a new licensing process for abortion providers amid ongoing legal challenges in state and federal court, and an attorney said Thursday that two doctors will be harmed professionally if the state succeeds.
The state Department of Health and Environment has been unable to enforce new regulations for hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices performing five or more elective abortions a month. The rules dictate the equipment, medications and staffing abortion providers must have on hand, set other standards for their buildings and require them to make patients' medical records available for inspection.
Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, have lawsuits pending in federal and state courts challenging the regulations, and judges have blocked enforcement of the rules. The doctors already have been denied a license to keep performing abortions at their offices in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park and have said in court filings they doubt they could obtain a license in the future.
But the health department still wants to consider and rule upon applications from prospective abortion providers, attorneys for state officials said in a filing this week in Shawnee County District Court. The state's attorneys asked District Judge Franklin Theis to allow the health department to continue the licensing process "in its usual and orderly fashion," even if the agency can't punish providers for not following its rules.
Attorneys for Hodes and Nauser filed a response by fax late Wednesday, protesting that if the doctors' offices were denied a license, they'd have to report it to numerous other parties, including hospitals and their insurance carriers, harming their professional standing. Theis issued an order last week preventing the health department from enforcing its regulations until he has another hearing Dec. 6 and 7.
"A central function of the restraining order is to prevent the state from moving ahead," said Bonnie Scott Jones, an attorney for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the two doctors. "I'm not sure what the urgency is on their part."
The health department doesn't have any pending applications from prospective abortion providers, said spokeswoman Miranda Steele. The state's request didn't detail why the agency wants to continue with the licensing process; Steele referred questions to the attorney general's office, which declined to elaborate.
A new state law established the licensing process and required the health department to write health and safety regulations for abortion providers. Supporters contend the rules will protect patients, but critics see them as burdensome and medically unnecessary.
The licensing law was among several policies enacted this year in Kansas by anti-abortion majorities in the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican abortion opponent who took office in January.
Another policy would keep the state from providing federal funds for non-abortion family planning services to Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. A federal judge overturned it, but the state appealed, and Planned Parenthood attorneys were facing a deadline to file a response with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.