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Rules for Kan. abortion clinics win final approval

By John Hanna

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 27 2011 6:55 p.m. MDT

Kansas state Sen. Vicki Schmidt, right, a Topeka Republican, confers with Landon Fulmer, left, GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's policy director, during a Senate debate on abortion legislation, Wednesday, April 27, 2011, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The legislation imposes new health and safety regulations on abortion clinics.

John Hanna, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — New health and safety regulations specifically for Kansas abortion clinics won final approval Wednesday from the state Legislature, and the new requirements would include annual, unannounced state inspections.

The Senate approved the measure, 24-15. An identical version already had passed the House, so the bill goes next to Gov. Sam Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican who is expected to sign it.

Kansas has only three abortion clinics, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, another in the same Kansas City suburb, and one in Kansas City, Kan. A clinic once run by Dr. George Tiller of Wichita has remained closed since he was gunned down in May 2009 by a man professing strong anti-abortion views.

Abortion opponents contend the bill will protect patients. The measure directs the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to write standards for exits, lighting, bathrooms and equipment. KDHE would issue annual licenses, have the power to fine clinics and could go to court to shut them down.

The measure also imposes new rules for how clinics administer RU-486 abortion-inducing pills, requiring them to be provided only by licensed physicians and dispensed with the doctor present.

"We're dealing with the safety and health of women — women who are making a personal decision, who don't leave these clinics whistling and skipping," said Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, a Shawnee Republican who opposes abortion and pushed for Wednesday's vote.

Critics said the real goal is to force clinics to make expensive renovations and changes in their operations, in hopes of shutting them down. Julie Burkhart, an abortion-rights advocate who worked with Tiller said clinics could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in new expenses.

Opponents said that if the bill forces clinics out of business — as they believe it will — poor women will suffer most.

"There will be an increase in what were previously known as back-alley abortions," said Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat.

Others said that if the regulations imposed by the bill will benefit patients, they should be applied to another 250 to 300 clinics and offices performing invasive medical procedures.

"The patients in those other procedures are just as vulnerable to infection and complications as the patient receiving an abortion," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican.

In theory, the bill's regulations could apply to hospitals performing at least five first-trimester abortions a month, but supporters of the measure said they don't know of any that do. Supporters said special regulations for abortion clinics are justified because their patients are vulnerable, often not wanting to tell others about their procedures, even if problems arise.

"The inherent shame of abortion keeps women from filing public lawsuits and demanding state corrective action," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.

Both legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans and have anti-abortion majorities. Legislators approved bills regulating abortion clinics in 2003 and 2005, only to see them vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion rights Democrat. After Brownback took office in January, he called on lawmakers to create "a culture of life."

The bill is part of a wave of legislation across the nation to impose new restrictions on abortions and rules for providers, with abortion opponents encouraged by the election last year of new Republican governors like Brownback and sympathetic legislators.

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