APNewsBreak: Kan. sets new abortion rules quickly

June 21, 2011 - 8:15 PM

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials have taken only a few weeks to draft new abortion clinic regulations and plan to decide by July whether to give the state's three existing clinics the licenses they need to continue operating, according to documents released Tuesday.

The top executive for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid Missouri said he's concerned imposing the new regulations so quickly will force all three clinics to shut down. The Planned Parenthood chapter operates one of the three clinics, all of which are in the Kansas City area.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is imposing the rules under Republican-backed legislation that was signed into law last month by GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent. The department sent Planned Parenthood a letter earlier this month saying its clinic would be inspected and notified by July 1 whether it would have a license. The other clinics received similar letters.

The Associated Press filed an open records request last week, seeking copies of the department's correspondence with the clinics. Planned Parenthood provided its copies of the letters shortly before the agency released them. Both also provided a copy of the latest version of the new regulations, dated Friday, the same day clinics were required to apply for their licenses.

Peter Brownlie, the Planned Parenthood chapter's president and chief executive officer, said the organization is consulting with its attorneys about filing a lawsuit over the regulations and the process used to impose them.

"Certainly, it's unfair," Brownlie said. "It is rushed. It is disorderly. It is confused."

The new law requires annual inspections of abortion clinics and gives the department the power to issue fines or go to court to shut clinics down for violating the new standards. The plan was approved by the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature earlier this year.

Documents show that on May 26 — 10 days after the legislation was signed by the governor — the department told the clinics that new regulations would be take effect in July. A June 9 letter said the clinics would know whether they were licensed by July 1 and came with a copy of new regulations. A June 13 letter said revised regulations would be issued within days; Brownlie said Planned Parenthood received its copy by mail Monday.

The department can impose temporary regulations for up to four months, then hold a public hearing before imposing permanent rules. A state board must sign off on the temporary rules, but that's expected next week.

Joseph Kroll, director of the bureau that drafted the rules, said his staff did research as lawmakers discussed the legislation and reviewed standards from other states and the American Institute of Architects. The new rules tell clinics how much space they must have for various areas and what equipment and drugs must be on hand.

Kroll said the new law required the department to impose regulations quickly because the clinics can't operate without a license after July 1.

"It's our intent to comply with the law to prevent an interruption in services at these facilities," he told The Associated Press. "We followed the process we always do, but it was compressed."

Abortion rights supporters are skeptical. Julie Burkhart, founder of the political action committee Trust Women, called the regulations "a full-on assault" on abortion rights.

"This really does nothing but harm the women of the state of Kansas," she said.

But Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said the regulations require providers to make good on their decades-old promise that procedures would be safe when legal.

"They were going to whine no matter what," Culp said.

The health department regulates 158 hospitals and 74 surgical centers, which include the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park. Dozens of other offices and clinics do surgeries under rules imposed by the State Board of Healing Arts, which regulates physicians.

The board can revoke a doctor's license over unsafe conditions or practices, but abortion opponents have long accused it of being slow to act. The new law creates a separate licensing system for any clinic or hospital performing five or more abortions not resulting from medical emergencies.

The other clinics falling under the law are the Center for Women's Health, also in Overland Park, and the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City, Kan.

Brownlie said three state inspectors planned to arrive Wednesday for a two-day review of the Planned Parenthood clinic. He said he believes the clinic can meet the new regulations but isn't sure what issues will arise and whether it will have adequate time to address perceived deficiencies.

Center for Women's Health officials didn't return a telephone message seeking comment. Jeff Pederson, administrator at Aid for Women, said his clinic's inspection hadn't been scheduled as of Tuesday, but he considers the $500 licensing fee it paid "wasted."

"They have a mandate from God, and they need to make political hay while they have control of the House and Senate and they have the governor's mansion," he said.

Kroll said he can't predict what will happen after the inspections. He said the letters to the clinics were designed to be helpful.

"Everything had to happen in a very quick period," he said.

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Online:

Kansas Department of Health and Environment: http://www.kdheks.gov/

Planned Parenthood chapter: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/kansas-mid-missouri/

Aid for Women clinic: http://www.aidforwomen.com/

Kansans for Life: http://www.kfl.org