Group to sue over revised clinic rules

10/28/2011 12:00 AM

10/28/2011 12:09 AM

TOPEKA — A national abortion-rights group said Thursday that it will sue over revised regulations for abortion providers in Kansas, saying that even with recent changes meant to placate the doctors who have already persuaded a federal judge to block the earlier version, the rules still impose unreasonable and irrational requirements.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights represents Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Traci Nauser, who perform abortions and provide other medical services at their offices in Overland Park. The center, on behalf of the doctors, filed a lawsuit in late June, when the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was preparing to enforce new regulations mandated this year by the Legislature.

The first version of the rules told providers what drugs and equipment they must stock and set minimum size requirements for procedure and recovery rooms. The department recently revised the rules, paring down the list of drugs and equipment required and dropping specific sizes for rooms.

The state published the revised regulations Thursday, and they are set to take effect next month.

A federal judge blocked enforcement of the original regulations until a trial of the doctors' lawsuit. Learning last week that revised regulations would take effect Nov. 14, the judge ordered the parties in the lawsuit to analyze the differences between the two sets of rules.

"They made some important changes, which is good, but unfortunately, they have left a lot in that is unacceptable," said Bonnie Scott Jones, an attorney for the center. "They're still extremely burdensome in multiple ways, so they still do need to be challenged."

The revised regulations retain a rule allowing only a physician to dispense drugs, which Jones said would prevent a physician's assistant from giving over-the-counter pain medication. Also kept was a requirement that providers make all records available for review by the health department, something critics predict will invade patients' privacy.

Cheryl Pilate, an attorney representing Ronald Yeomans, said he also would be involved. Yeomans performs abortions at a Kansas City, Kan., clinic.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office declined comment. Schmidt is a defendant in the existing lawsuit, as are two county prosecutors in the Kansas City area and the state's secretary of health and environment.

Health department spokeswoman Miranda Steele said the agency had not seen the announcement.

"KDHE will move forward as we can legally. However, we need to do our jobs within the rule of law," she said.

The health department wrote both sets of regulations under a law enacted this year requiring clinics, hospitals and doctors' offices performing five or more elective abortions a month to obtain a special, annual license. It was a part of a wave of anti-abortion measures enacted this year across the nation, as abortion opponents capitalized on the election of new, sympathetic Republican governors like Kansas' Sam Brownback.

Abortion rights supporters argue the rules are meant to be burdensome enough to discourage doctors and clinics from terminating pregnancies.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said the original rules were "reasonable and state-of-the-art," and abortion providers have no legitimate complaints after their concerns were considered.

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