Overland Park abortion clinic inspected under new state law

Kansas launched an inspection today of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, ahead of a health department decision on whether the state's three abortion clinics will be allowed to continue operating after June.

Three inspectors from the Department of Health and Environment arrived in the morning for what officials at Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri said was a two-day review of operations at its clinic. The department has told the state's other two clinics, also in the Kansas City area, that they'll be inspected by the end of the month.

The department is inspecting the clinics under a law enacted this year mandating health and safety standards and a special licensing process for abortion providers. The agency drafted the regulations in the weeks after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a strong abortion opponent, signed the law last month and finished its latest version Friday.

Abortion rights supporters are suspicious of the licensing process because of Brownback's stance and because anti-abortion groups and legislators pushed the law. Officials at the Planned Parenthood chapter fear none of the three clinics will get licensed, forcing them to shut down July 1, when the law takes effect.

"This is a political process," Peter Brownlie, the Planned Parenthood chapter's president and chief executive officer, told The Associated Press. "The law that was enacted, was enacted for political purposes and not for health and safety purposes."

Still, Brownlie said Planned Parenthood is confident its clinic can meet the new standards.

Planned Parenthood did not allow reporters inside its parking lot or on its clinic's grounds, and the inspectors entered the building without stopping to speak to reporters. A spokeswoman for the department in Topeka did not immediately return a telephone message this morning.

Backers of the new law contend it will protect the health and safety of the clinics' patients.

Joseph Kroll, director of the bureau that drafted the rules, said Tuesday that his staff conducted research as lawmakers discussed the legislation and reviewed standards from other states and the American Institute of Architects. The new rules tell clinics how much space they must have for various areas and what equipment and drugs must be on hand.

The new law requires annual inspections of abortion clinics and gives the department the power to issue fines or go to court to shut clinics down for violating the new standards. The plan had bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature earlier this year.

Documents provided to The AP by the state and Planned Parenthood show that on May 26 — 10 days after the legislation was signed by the governor — the department told the clinics that new regulations would be take effect in July. A June 9 letter said the clinics would know whether they were licensed by July 1 and came with a copy of new regulations. A June 13 letter said revised regulations would be issued within days; Brownlie said Planned Parenthood received its copy by mail Monday.

The department can impose temporary regulations for up to four months, then hold a public hearing before imposing permanent rules. A state board must sign off on the temporary rules, and that is expected to happen next week.

Kroll said the new law required the department to impose regulations quickly because the clinics can't operate without a license after July 1.

"It's our intent to comply with the law to prevent an interruption in services at these facilities," he said. "We followed the process we always do, but it was compressed."

Clinic operators said it's unfair for the state to draft regulations so quickly and expect clinics to comply by July. Julie Burkhart, founder of the political action committee Trust Women, called the regulations "a full-on assault" on abortion rights.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said of the clinics, "They were going to whine no matter what."

The other clinics falling under the law are the Center for Women's Health, also in Overland Park, and the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City, Kan.