Kansas governor signs abortion clinics bill

TOPEKA | Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed legislation Monday that will require annual, unannounced inspections of abortion clinics and impose new health and safety standards specifically for the three clinics operating in the state.

The new law will take effect July 1. Abortion rights supporters fear it will drive one or more of the clinics out of business. Abortion opponents argue that the changes will protect patients.

Brownback's office confirmed the signing for The Associated Press before it issued a public statement about the governor's action. Brownback, an anti-abortion Republican who took office in January, has publicly called on the GOP-dominated Legislature to create "a culture of life," and it has responded by passing a raft of measures.

Along with annual, unannounced inspections of the clinics, the new law 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.

"In order to make money doing abortions, they have to do a lot of them. Medical regulations slow them down," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life. "Anything we could do to require the clinics to care more about women than about their profit margins is a good thing."

Kansas' three abortion clinics are all on its side of the Kansas City metropolitan area: A Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri clinic in Overland Park; another, Center for Women's Health, in Overland Park, and one in Kansas City, Kan., the Aid to Women clinic.

Employees at the Center for Women's Health declined to comment, and officials at the Aid to Women clinic did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment. Peter Brownlie, the Planned Parenthood affiliate's president and chief executive officer, said there's no doubt the goal of the abortion opponents who pushed the legislation is to limit access to such procedures.

"None of the requirements that are in the bill do anything to improve the health and safety of services for women," Brownlie said. "The only effect is to make the services more expensive and more difficult to obtain, or more difficult to provide."

The legislation also includes new rules for how clinics administer abortion-inducing medication, such as RU-486, requiring them to be provided only by licensed physicians and dispensed with a doctor present. Supporters said the bill will prevent clinics from dispensing such medication to patients at far-away locations through telemedicine systems.