Abortion providers sue over Kansas license law

A father-daughter physician team from an Overland Park abortion clinic went to federal court Tuesday to stop Kansas from imposing new clinic licensing rules.

The lawsuit, brought by Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Traci Nauser, alleges an organized and deliberate effort by Gov. Sam Brownback's administration to "to close abortion clinics by any means necessary."

"At every step .. , KDHE implemented the licensing provisions of the act in ways that made it impossible for existing medical practices to obtain a license by the effective date," the lawsuit contends.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Tuesday the clinics inspected so far hadn't met the new standards approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

A spokesman for Brownback could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. A spokeswoman for KDHE declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Hodes and Nauser run the Center for Women's Health, an obstetrics and gynecological clinic that also provides abortions. The clinic performed about a quarter of the state's 8,338 abortions in 2010.

State health inspectors were scheduled to inspect the Hodes' clinic today, but the clinic canceled the review, thinking it would not get a license anyway.

The lawsuit contends the licensing rules are overly burdensome and impose a "number of ambiguous and unclear requirements" on the clinics.

"As a whole, the temporary regulations impose burdensome and costly requirements that are not medically necessary or appropriate and that are not imposed on Kansas medical providers performing other comparable procedures," the lawsuit charges.

State health regulators said the abortion clinics they've inspected so far have "failed to meet the minimum health and safety standards" in the new law. The agency refused to identify the clinics that were inspected.

KDHE said it will continue to work with applicants and provide follow-up inspections if it appears that the areas of noncompliance can be worked out.

The state last week notified Aid for Women in Kansas City, Kan., that it would not be licensed, based on its application. That clinic also is considering legal action.

Planned Parenthood of Overland Park was inspected over two days last week.

Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said his agency has not been licensed yet. He reiterated that the inspection results indicated his agency will be in full compliance on or by Friday.

Brownlie said he has had communications with the state but would not disclose details. He said he would honor the state's desire to keep the proceedings confidential.

The new licensing law requires clinics to be inspected twice a year, including one unannounced review. It also spells out standards for operations, supplies, facilities and medical procedures.

May Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said the law was needed to ensure the safety of women. She said the law wasn't intended to shut down abortion clinics and that a similar law is in place in South Carolina.

"Without any oversight, women really are in danger," Culp said Tuesday.

She said women who are malpractice victims are less likely to go public after an abortion than if they had undergone a procedure like knee or shoulder surgery.

The regulations were sent out to providers on June 17, less than two weeks before the Hodes' clinic was scheduled to be inspected and only days before Planned Parenthood was scheduled to be inspected.

Bonnie Scott Jones, one of the lawyers representing the physicians, called the timeline "absurdly short."

"If you operate a medical practice, there's no way that in two weeks you're going to be able to transform the physical environment," said Jones, counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Jones also said it was "quite shocking" that the department refused to grant a waiver from any of the rules.

"They weren't even willing to hear the requests we wanted to make," Jones said.

"That's a really extreme process for a state agency applying new regulations that it just came up with and gave to the regulated entity."