State board approves Kansas' new abortion regulations

TOPEKA | A normally obscure board in Kansas unanimously approved new regulations Thursday for abortion providers, moving the state closer to becoming the first in the nation without a clinic or doctor's office performing the procedures.

Approval of the rules by the five-member State Rules and Regulations Board was necessary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to begin enforcing them Friday. But abortion providers have filed a federal lawsuit and hope to prevent the state from enforcing the regulations and the new licensing law under which they were written.

Kansas has three abortion providers, all in the Kansas City area. The law requires each to obtain a special license to continue performing abortions. The regulations tell providers what equipment and drugs they must stock and set space and temperature requirements for procedure and recovery rooms.

Supporters say the rules will protect patients from substandard care. But critics say they're burdensome by design and really aimed at shutting down abortion services. Abortion rights supporters are suspicious of the licensing process because Gov. Sam Brownback is an anti-abortion Republican and abortion opponents pushed the law through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

All five Rules and Regulation Board members are Republicans like Brownback. Its members include two legislators and representatives of the attorney general, secretary of state and secretary of administration. The non-legislators often send subordinates, and the board receives little public attention, but Secretary of State Kris Kobach attended himself.

Providers have sued partly because they didn't see the current version of the regulations until last week — less than two weeks before they were supposed to comply with them. The health department also hasn't taken public comments.

The health department used an expedited process to impose the rules for four months, until it solicits public comments and considers changes. Department officials contend the fast track is necessary because the law requires the licensing process to be in place by July 1.

But state law created the Rules and Regulations Board's to review efforts by agencies to impose regulations quickly and before taking public comments.