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.
Kansas already has enacted laws this year to tighten restrictions on abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy and to require doctors to get the written consent of parents before performing an abortion on a minor. Abortion foes also hope to pass a bill restricting private health insurance coverage for abortions that aren't necessary to save a woman's or girl's life.
"The party of small government and limited regulation is spending an extraordinary amount of time and taxpayer money interfering in medical care and enacting new and dangerous regulations," said Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
Kansas regulates hospitals and surgical centers, but not doctor's offices and clinics. Instead, individual physicians are licensed and regulated by the State Board of Healing Arts. Abortion opponents have repeatedly questioned the board's oversight.
The clinic-regulation bill would require doctors who perform abortions to have privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. A clinic's medical director would have to be a doctor licensed to practice medicine and surgery in Kansas, and all abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy would have to be performed in a hospital or surgical center.
The bill's backers noted that the Board of Healing Arts forced a Kansas City, Kan., physician to shut down his abortion clinic in 2005, finding substandard conditions there, but two years after complaints surfaced.
Haley said there were no deaths reported at the clinic and said even the services it provided were better than alternatives poor women might seek if the bill shut down other clinics.
But Sen. Garrett Love, a Montezuma Republican who supported the measure said: "I don't believe semi-clean to be OK. I don't believe it to be OK for poor women. I don't believe it to be OK for rich women."
The clinic regulation measure is House Sub for SB 36.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org