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Julie Burkhart: Will Kansas be next Texas?

  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Last week the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the stay granted by federal Judge Lee Yeakel to block sections of Texas House Bill 2, a sweeping abortion clinic reform bill, from being implemented. Not only did it overturn the stay, but the court ordered that the law be implemented immediately.

This law hurts Texas women, as about one-third of medical facilities that provide abortion care are now closed. The law requires clinics to have physicians with admitting privileges at local hospitals.

The three-judge panel claimed its ruling was to protect the health and safety of Texas women. In reality, it endangers women’s health by further restricting access to an already stigmatized and heavily regulated medical procedure.

Abortion care is a safe procedure. In the first trimester, the complication rate is less than one-half of 1 percent. As a comparison, a person is 54 times more likely to have complications getting a root canal. Laws and rulings like this are not meant to deliver higher-quality health care to women; they are specifically designed to shut down abortion providers and block safe, legal access.

This should alarm Kansans who care about women’s health and the quality of care they receive for reproductive health services. It is not uncommon for a doctor’s office, in an emergency situation, to transport patients to a designated local hospital. The physicians who do this do not always have hospital privileges or a transfer agreement. Lack of privileges does not dictate nor determine the standard of care patients have received. These requirements are merely legislative efforts meant to obstruct access and have no clinical justification.

As preferable as it may be to have agreements in place, their absence is not putting women at risk. The usual reason that hospitals are reluctant to have such an agreement is political pressure exerted by elected officials and hospital administrators who have their own singular agendas. Because of these situations, it’s not uncommon for hospitals to deny requests by clinics to have such an agreement.

The reality of laws such as HB2 in Texas is disturbing at best and horrifying at worst. Already, women in the Midwest and South must travel long distances to access care. If clinics without privileges close, those distances and the costs associated with travel, missed work and child care will only increase. For many women who need access to abortion care, these restrictions will often prove insurmountable. That could effectively force many of them to use unsafe abortion methods.

These laws do not protect people; they serve only to interfere with a woman’s right to a constitutionally protected medical procedure. No wonder Kansas has had to spend more than $913,000 since 2011 defending these punitive and prejudicial laws meant to do nothing but bring harm to women’s lives. Is this really the type of health care environment we want to create for our mothers, daughters and sisters?

Julie Burkhart is director of Trust Women/South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita.

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