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Cheryl Sullenger: Abortion laws aid women

  • Published Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at 12 a.m.

I could not disagree more with the commentary by Julie Burkhart, director of Trust Women/South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, concerning the consequences of a new Texas law that requires abortion clinics to maintain hospital privileges within 30 miles of their clinics (“Will Kansas be next Texas?” Nov. 6 Opinion).

Burkhart is concerned that such laws would restrict abortion access, when that is not the case at all. According to our research, 16 abortion clinics in Texas that could not or would not comply with the law have stopped providing abortions, although the majority of those remain open for other services. However, 25 abortion clinics remain open and operational under the new law, proving that access is still widely available.

In reality, the hospital-privilege requirement is a continuity-of-care issue, not one of access. Take, for example, the case of a woman named Angela. In 2004, she walked into an abortion clinic in Santa Ana, Calif., for an abortion at 20 weeks. According to medical board documents, the abortion doctor took five minutes to complete her abortion. He was rushed because he had appointments waiting at another abortion clinic about three hours away. He left immediately after the procedure. However, Angela began bleeding heavily and the two poorly trained medical aides she was left with could not help her.

By the time paramedics arrived, it was too late. They found her lying in a pool of her own blood. Angela was transported to a local hospital, where she later died.

Angela’s case is not unique. There are serious safety concerns about abortionists who breeze into town, inflict injuries upon women, then hurry off to the next city where more abortion appointments await, leaving hospital emergency rooms to clean up their messes.

Many states across the country, including Kansas, have recognized the dangers to this “circuit rider” practice and attempted to mitigate them by passing safety laws similar to the one under litigation in Texas.

Unfortunately, despite the passage of this critical safety law in 2011, the Kansas provision remains in legal limbo in court. The Attorney General’s Office appears unmotivated to defend this law, which enjoyed overwhelming public and legislative support. In fact, the case is at a standstill, having had no court action since June 2012. No future hearing is scheduled.

This is completely unacceptable for the women of Wichita, who remain in grave risk from a lack of continuity of care provided by Burkhart’s clinic.

We urge Kansans to contact Attorney General Derek Schmidt and insist that he immediately act to defend the Kansas abortion law now in legal limbo in Shawnee County District Court in order to protect women from unaccountable out-of-state abortionists who can provide no continuity of care in the event of the inevitable abortion complications. For the sake of those like Angela, we cannot afford to waste any more time.

Cheryl Sullenger is senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue in Wichita.

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