TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A normally obscure board in Kansas unanimously approved new regulations Thursday for abortion providers, moving the state closer to becoming the first in the nation without a clinic or doctor's office performing the procedures.
Approval of the rules by the five-member State Rules and Regulations Board was necessary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to begin enforcing them Friday. But abortion providers have filed a federal lawsuit and hope to prevent the state from enforcing the regulations and the new licensing law under which they were written. A hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.
Kansas has three abortion providers, all in the Kansas City area. The law requires each to obtain a special license to continue performing abortions. The regulations tell providers what equipment and drugs they must stock and set space and temperature requirements for procedure and recovery rooms.
Only one provider, a Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri clinic in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, had a licensing decision pending Thursday with the health department. One provider has been denied a license; the third hasn't been inspected and can't get a license until it is.
"I do not think we will get a decision from KDHE until tomorrow," said Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood chapter. "We've not been granted a license. We haven't been denied a license."
Supporters say the rules will protect patients from substandard care. But critics say they're burdensome by design and really aimed at shutting down abortion services. Abortion rights supporters are suspicious of the licensing process because Gov. Sam Brownback is an anti-abortion Republican and abortion opponents pushed the law through the GOP-controlled Legislature.
All five Rules and Regulation Board members are Republicans like Brownback. Its members include two legislators and representatives of the attorney general, secretary of state and secretary of administration. The non-legislators often send subordinates, and the board receives little public attention. But Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Secretary of Administration Dennis Taylor both attended Thursday.
Providers have sued partly because they didn't see the current version of the regulations until earlier this month — less than two weeks before they were supposed to comply with them. The health department also hasn't taken public comments.
The health department used an expedited process to impose the rules for four months, until it solicits public comments and considers changes. Department officials contend the fast track is necessary because the law requires the licensing process to be in place by July 1.
State law created the Rules and Regulations Board's to review efforts by agencies to impose regulations quickly and before taking public comments. The health department published a notice Thursday that it will have a public hearing on the abortion clinic rules Sept. 7 in Topeka.
"Our goal is always to ensure the highest quality of care," Joseph Kroll, the director of the health department bureau that drafted the regulations. "I think their content and the approach is consistent with other regulations that we have in effect."
The Kansas 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 square feet.
Kathy Ostrowski, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said the space standards give clinic personnel enough room to move themselves and patients. The requirement for separate janitor's closets prevents mixing and contamination of various supplies, she said.
"They're totally legitimate," she said after the board's meeting. "It didn't come out of space."
Abortion-rights providers contend the standards are unnecessary because abortions are safe or safer than other surgeries performed in doctor's offices and clinics.
They also contend that a rush by the department to impose its rules deprived 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.
Brownlie said he's not surprised by the board's decision but is "disappointed that a more rational, reasonable process has not been followed."
The lawsuit against the regulations and clinics was filed by Drs. Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser, his daughter, who perform abortions and other services at the Center for Women's Health, also in Overland Park. The center cancelled its state inspection after they filed the lawsuit Tuesday.
The state's third provider is the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City. The department told it last week that it wouldn't get a license after it acknowledged in its application that the clinic would need extensive renovations to comply with the new regulations. Its corporate parent and its physician, Ronald Yeomans, filed a request Wednesday to intervene in the Hodes-Nauser lawsuit.
Planned Parenthood also is contemplating legal action, should it not get a license.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment: http://www.kdheks.gov/
U.S. District Court for Kansas: http://www.ksd.uscourts.gov/