Overland Park, Kan. – One in a series of abortion limits approved in Kansas since Republicans took full control of the state government this year — a new license law — is raising uncertainty about the future of all abortion providers in the state.
Opponents of abortion say that the licenses — which newly dictate requirements for the size of rooms at abortion clinics, the stocking of emergency equipment, medications and blood supplies, and ties to nearby hospitals — will ensure at least a modicum of safety standards in a state that Troy Newman, the leader of the anti-abortion groupOperation Rescue, said “had been the Wild West for abortionists for as long as anyone can remember.”
But abortion rights supporters, here and nationally, say the rules, which take effect next week, are onerous, have been rushed into place too rapidly and are actually aimed at ending abortion services at the only three places in the state now providing them, perhaps as early as Friday.
“These requirements range from the impossible to the absurd,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They’re not designed to protect patient safety; they’re designed to shut down abortion providers.”
For decades, Kansas has been a focal point for the national debate over abortion. Opponents saw openings for new restrictions this year, after eight years under Democrats who had vetoed such measures, when Sam Brownback, a Republican who has long opposed abortion rights, became governor.
This year, lawmakers here have limited abortion coverage in health care plans, required young people to get consent from both parents for abortions and banned providers from offering medical abortions to people in other locations, communicating instructions via computer.
“What this shows is there’s been incredible pent-up demand in Kansas to pass really thoroughgoing pro-life legislation,” said Lance Kinzer, a Republican state representative who helped spearhead the legislation.
Julie Burkhart, who leads Trust Women, an abortion rights group, said she believed that by the end of the year Kansas could be one of a handful of states with no abortion clinics. “The anti-choicers have figured out that we don’t need to overturn Roe v. Wade,” she said. “We can legislate abortion clinics to death so that women don’t have access.”
Three abortion facilities — all in the Kansas City area — remain open in Kansas since the killing in 2009 of Dr. George R. Tiller, the state’s best-known abortion provider, whose clinic had operated out of Wichita. Under the new licensing rules, officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said they were inspecting the remaining operations, including a Planned Parenthood clinic, this week and next week, and would then determine which ones receive licenses.
“These are common-sense regulations,” said Mr. Newman, who said that unsanitary conditions and a lack of preparation for complications had been a serious problem at some clinics nationally. “Do I want all abortion clinics to close? Absolutely. But if they can’t even comply with the basic minimum-safety standards, they certainly don’t deserve to be in business.”
Operators of the Kansas clinics were not optimistic about the licensing procedure.
M. Jeffrey Pederson, of Aid for Women in Kansas City, said there was no way he could meet the new standards. He said that his building was too small to meet the space standards and that he did not have visiting privileges with a nearby hospital — requirements he deemed unnecessary to run a safe clinic.
Peter B. Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said he believed the group’s clinic in Overland Park would be able to meet the new requirements but expected it to be denied a license anyway. “We believe without question that the intent is to shut down abortion clinics in Kansas, so we are preparing to be in court,” Mr. Brownlie said.
And Dr. Herbert Hodes, who has operated a practice in Overland Park for 34 years with a wide array of obstetric and gynecological services, called the new regulations — the latest versions of which were issued only a week ago — bizarre and “out of date with modern medicine.” Among the provisions for which he said he might be deemed out of compliance: a rule that procedure rooms be at least 150 square feet in size and that storage areas for “janitorial supplies and equipment” be at least 50 square feet per procedure room.