Politics & Government

State inspectors arrive at abortion clinic

OVERLAND PARK — Kansas launched an inspection Wednesday of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, ahead of decisions by the health department that could leave the state as the first in the nation with no licensed abortion providers.

Three inspectors from the Department of Health and Environment arrived in the morning for a two-day review of operations at the clinic in Overland Park, according to officials at Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. 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 June.

The department is inspecting the clinics under a law enacted this year that imposes additional health and safety standards and a special licensing process for abortion providers.

Abortion-rights supporters are suspicious of the licensing process because of Gov. Sam Brownback's opposition to abortion, and because anti-abortion groups and lawmakers pushed the law. Abortion-rights supporters worry that none of the clinics will get licenses needed to legally perform abortions as of July 1.

The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research firm that supports abortion rights, said all U.S. states have clinics or offices performing abortions, though South Dakota and Mississippi have only one each.

The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue said it looked forward to Kansas becoming "the first abortion-free state in the nation."

"We have doubts that any of the abortion clinics can meet the safety requirements of the new law," said Troy Newman, the group's president.

Abortions are offered in Kansas at the Planned Parenthood clinic that was inspected Wednesday, and at the Women's Health Center in Overland Park and the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City.

Representatives of all three said they received the latest version of the health department's clinic regulations this week and said it's unfair to expect them to comply by July. They said they don't know whether the health department will allow them to continue providing abortions while addressing issues raised by inspectors.

Cheryl Pilate, an attorney for the Aid to Women clinic, said all three providers are striving to meet the standards, but "this is an incredibly short time period."

"It imposes a burden that, frankly, I don't think any business could meet," she said. "Really, what is at stake is whether a right to choose will exist in Kansas."

An inspection for the Aid to Women clinic hadn't been scheduled as of Wednesday, but Pilate said preventing the clinic from providing abortions could shut it down. Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood chapter, said its clinic still could offer nonabortion services, such as family planning.

An inspection for the Women's Health Center is scheduled to begin June 29. It will remain open whatever the state's decision, said physician Herbert Hodes, who provides health services for women there with his daughter, who also is a physician, and a registered nurse. He said the office provides gynecology services, treatment for infertility, and prenatal care, all of which would continue.