Published June 24, 2011
TOPEKA, Kan. -- One of three abortion providers in Kansas appeared likely to close after being denied a state license to continue terminating pregnancies at its Kansas City-area clinic, and abortion rights supporters feared Friday that the anti-abortion governor's administration will reject licenses for the other two.
The state enacted a law earlier this year establishing a special licensing process for abortion providers, and they must either get licenses or stop offering the procedure on July 1. Backers of the law argue it protects patients from substandard care, but critics believe the real goal is to make Kansas the first state without an abortion clinic.
A lawyer for the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City, Kan., said Friday that it received a notice that its application for a license had been denied by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment without an inspection. Attorney Cheryl Pilate said the clinic was looking at its legal options but would have to close, at least temporarily.
The clinic received its notice on the same day the leader of a regional Planned Parenthood chapter said inspectors who spent two days at its Overland Park clinic found it will comply with all new regulations. An inspection of the third provider is scheduled for Wednesday. All three are in the Kansas City area.
"We're doomed," said Dr. Herbert Hodes, who performs abortions for the third provider, the Women's Health Center, also in Overland Park.
But Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said if the health department bases its decision on the 20-hour inspection of the group's clinic, it should get a license.
"The findings of the inspection indicate we will be in full compliance with the abortion facility license regulations when they go into effect on July 1," Brownlie said.
Health department spokeswoman Miranda Myrick declined to comment because the licensing process for all three abortion providers is ongoing. But she said the providers can't offer abortions until they obtain licenses -- meaning the procedures would be illegal if a licensing decision still is pending July 1.
Abortion rights advocates are suspicious of the licensing process because Republican Gov. Sam Brownback strongly opposes abortion and anti-abortion groups pushed the law through the GOP-controlled Legislature.
"I find that incredibly un-American, that we would tell women that just because of where they live in the United States of America, that they are not entitled to legal health care," said Julie Burkhart, founder of the abortion rights political action committee Trust Women. "It's quite shocking."
But Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said the providers are merely being required to make good on their long-stated promises that legal abortion is safe. She said their complaints amounted to "screaming like long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs."
Told of the decision on the Aid for Women clinic she said, "This is good."
The health department already regulates hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers, which include the Planned Parenthood clinic. The two other abortion providers are among dozens of clinics and offices that fall under rules set by the state Board of Healing Arts, which licenses physicians.
The new law requires a separate, annual license for any hospital, clinic or office that performs at least five non-emergency abortions a month, and it requires state inspections, including at least one unannounced visit each year. The health department can fine providers and go to court to revoke their licenses.
Brownback signed the law on May 16, and 10 days later the department notified the three providers that new regulations were coming. This week, the providers received the latest copies of the regulations, which list drugs and equipment they must have on hand and set standards for the sizes of rooms and the number of bathrooms and janitor's closets.
Pilate said the health department told Aid for Women its application was denied because it had disclosed that it would need extensive renovations.
Also, she said, the clinic reported the physician who performs abortions is in the process of seeking privileges at an area hospital. The new law requires that a physician have privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
The department's notice said that for those reasons, "an on-site inspection will not be necessary and will not be scheduled."
Pilate said the clinic couldn't have even obtained remodeling plans or a building permit for renovations by July 1. She called the licensing process "rushed and absurdly unrealistic."
Hodes has promised that his office will remain open even without an abortion license, because it also provides other gynecology services, treatments for infertility and prenatal care. Planned Parenthood officials have said their clinic still could provide family planning services.
But Pilate said Aid for Women's non-abortion services are "ancillary," and the lack of an abortion license will probably force it to close.
"There are patients with scheduled appointments with few or no other options," Pilate said. "It's going to hurt poor women."
Culp said she and fellow abortion opponents didn't think the Aid for Women clinic could obtain a license because it would need extensive renovations. She said the Planned Parenthood clinic is the most likely to obtain a license because it's already regulated as a surgical center.
"We don't have any reason that they in particular wouldn't, except that they fought us for so long," she said, referring to past legislative debates over imposing specific rules for abortion providers.