State closing clinics

A federal judge ruled last week that Indiana overstepped in blocking public funding to Planned Parenthood. A lawsuit filed Monday by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri likely will reach the same conclusion.

But anti-abortion lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback may not care. That’s because new licensing requirements they imposed could close the state’s three remaining abortion clinics — which appears to be the goal.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued a preliminary injunction against an Indiana law that, similar to a new Kansas law, cuts off health and family planning funds to Planned Parenthood. She ruled that the law conflicts with a federal statute that allows Medicaid beneficiaries to choose their health care providers.

“States do not have carte blanche to expel otherwise competent Medicaid providers,” Pratt said. And she noted that “there are no allegations that Planned Parenthood of Indiana is incompetent or that it provides inappropriate or inadequate care.”

Competence was never the issue. Neither was abortion — at least not directly.

Federal law already prohibits Medicaid funding of abortion except in extraordinary circumstances. In fact, the Medicaid money that Planned Parenthood received in Kansas went to clinics in Wichita and Hays that don’t provide abortions.

The purpose of the Kansas law is to penalize Planned Parenthood — regardless of whether that limits options for women seeking family planning and other health services. Meanwhile, the purpose of new safety and inspection requirements appears to be to put clinics out of business.

Some of the new standards are more stringent and specific — such as dictating room temperatures and the size of janitorial closets — than requirements for hospitals, surgical centers or other office-based surgery sites. And because the standards were rushed into place, there is not time for the clinics to renovate to meet the new requirements, assuming they were even able to do so.

“These requirements range from the impossible to the absurd,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the New York Times.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment already denied a license to a Kansas City, Kan., abortion clinic without even inspecting it. Inspectors spent two days last week at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park. The clinic director thought the clinic would pass, but KDHE said Tuesday that no clinic it had inspected had met the new standards. Two physicians from another clinic in Overland Park filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the new law.

Julie Burkhart of Trust Women, an abortion-rights group, said that anti-abortion activists have figured out they don’t have to overturn Roe v. Wade; they just need to make the licensing requirements so onerous that clinics can’t meet them.

“The state of Kansas has taken itself to shut down abortion providers,” she said.

It’s well on its way.