TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas avoided becoming the first state in the country without an abortion provider by granting Planned Parenthood a license Thursday to continue performing abortions under new regulations being challenged in federal court.
The new rules from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment tell abortion providers what drugs and equipment they must have on hand, how big some of their rooms must be and the specific temperatures allowed in procedure and recovery rooms. The department is imposing them under a new licensing law that takes effect Friday.
The licensing law is part of an unprecedented surge of anti-abortion legislation that has advanced through Republican-controlled legislatures in many states. Collectively, the measures create an array of new obstacles -- legal, financial and psychological -- for women seeking abortions and doctors performing them.
Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said Thursday the clinic had received the license after initially being denied.
"It confirms what we knew all along, that we provide high-quality health care," Brownlie said. "We're glad to be able to keep meeting the needs of our patients."
The group had been certain enough that its clinic in the Kansas city suburb of Overland Park wouldn't be granted the license that it filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court. The filing came only hours after a state board granted the health department final approval to impose its rules.
Planned Parenthood's lawsuit said it was denied a license Monday but that it was still in contact with the health department, attempting to assure it that it would comply with the new regulations. Brownlie said the lawsuit would be withdrawn now that the clinic had gotten the license.
The state health department would only confirm that one of Kansas' three abortion providers would receive a license by Friday, but it would not name the provider. Had none of the clinics received a license, Kansas would have become the only state in the country without an abortion provider.
The state's two other clinics, which are involved in a separate federal lawsuit challenging the new regulations, have not been inspected for licensing.
Supporters of the new Kansas regulations say they 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.
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 tactics of other states that have passed anti-abortion legislation have varied: mandatory sonograms and anti-abortion counseling, sweeping limits on insurance coverage, bans on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
In South Dakota, lawmakers passed legislation requiring women seeking abortions to face a three-day waiting period and undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortion. A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the new law, saying that Planned Parenthood had demonstrated that it and its specified provisions are "likely" unconstitutional.