Public Hearing Addresses Kansas Abortion Rules

Kansas is one of several states trying to increase licensing requirements and regulations for clinics that perform abortions. The state has enacted a new set of rules but a lawsuit has prevented them from taking effect. On Wednesday, Kansas officials held a public hearing to consider changes to the rules.

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Kansas is one of several states trying to limit abortions by beefing up licensing requirements and regulations for clinics that perform the procedures. Kansas enacted new rules that, among other things, set the size and temperature for procedure rooms. A lawsuit prevented the rules from taking effect immediately, but Kansas officials held a hearing yesterday to gather reaction. NPR's Kathy Lohr has the story.

KATHY LOHR: There are now three clinics that perform abortions in Kansas and two of them say they cannot comply with the new state regulations without rebuilding.

Dr. HERBERT HODES (Center for Women's Health): I wanted to put a face on who this law affects.

LOHR: Dr. Herbert Hodes owns the Center for Women's Health - an OB-GYN practice in Overland Park, Kansas. He testified that a regulation that establishes the size of a procedure room at 150 square feet is not medically necessary.

Dr. HODES: What if my room was 149 square feet? You know, you measured it and you stretched it out and it was 149 square feet. Tough, Doctor Hodes, you're out of business.

LOHR: The regulations from the Kansas Board of Health and Environment also mandate separate dressing areas for patients and staff, a recovery period of at least two hours for patients, and require clinics stock certain medications and equipment.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid Missouri already meets the guidelines for a minor surgical center and can get a license under the new rules. But the group's CEO, Peter Brownlie is opposed to the regulations, which he says are politically motivated to reduce access to abortion.

Mr. PETER BROWNLIE (CEO, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid Missouri): The regulations are riddled with requirements which do nothing to improve the safety and health of women, make it more difficult for women to obtain a service they need and to which they are legally entitled.

LOHR: But several groups that oppose abortion say the regulations are common sense and necessary. Cheryl Sullenger with Operation Rescue asked the state to consider 2,500 pages of documents that detail what she describes as abuses across the country.

Mr. CHERYL SULLENGER (Operation Rescue): If abortion clinics close, then that is for the protection of the public. It's a good thing.

LOHR: Abortion opponents say they've worked for a decade to get the new rules. The legislature approved clinic licensing bills twice since 2002, but they were vetoed by the former governor. Kathy Ostrowski, with Kansans for Life, says it took a new governor, Sam Brownback, to get the changes.

Ms. KATHY OSTROWSKI (Kansans for Life): These laws are sensible and protective, and not punitive.

LOHR: The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a federal lawsuit in June to block the new rules. Attorney Bonnie Scott Jones says they violate the rights of women seeking abortions and those of doctors providing the procedures.

Ms. BONNIE SCOTT JONES (Attorney): It's certainly our hope and our expectation that we will be able to prove that these are medically unnecessary and excessively onerous.

LOHR: A spokeswoman for the state said she could not comment on the ongoing lawsuit.

Despite the legal action, the state is moving forward with plans to issue permanent regulations by October. Until then, people on both sides are gearing up for the continuing legal battle.

Unidentified Woman: What do we want?

Group: Access.

Unidentified Woman: When do we want it?

Group: Now.

LOHR: About two dozen abortion rights advocates showed up at the capitol in Topeka yesterday afternoon, mostly young women with Speak for Choice, a group formed to fight the new rules. And activists are monitoring laws in other states including Virginia, where new clinic requirements are expected to be passed by that state's board of health next week.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Topeka, Kansas.

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