Kansas officials are easing contentious new regulations governing abortion clinics, but the move may not be enough to placate abortion providers who have already persuaded a federal judge to block earlier versions, The Associated Press has learned.
The AP obtained an advance copy of the new permanent rules that will take effect Nov. 14. A comparison with the temporary version of the rules shows Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials have removed some of the provisions that have been criticized during a public comment period and in a federal lawsuit.
The revised regulations no longer specify required procedure and patient room sizes and give clinics wider latitude to adjust a room's temperature. They also pare down the list of required medications and equipment doctors need to have on hand and no longer require clinics to have a large janitorial room per each procedure room.
But the bulk of the original provisions remain, including rules that require abortion providers to have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic and that require patient medical records to be available at the clinic for state health department officials to review.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Miranda Steele said in an email that while the temporary regulations were reasonable based on industry standards, the public comment period served its purpose.
"KDHE took into account the suggestions and input received during the public comment period and made some changes to the regulations, but maintaining the same intent _ to ensure the safety of patients," Steele said.
U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia in July blocked the temporary regulations from taking effect after abortion providers said the rules would have forced the closure of two abortion clinics that would have had to make extensive building renovations in order to comply. Murguia has since ordered attorneys to submit briefs by Oct. 28 analyzing the similarities or differences between the permanent and temporary regulations.
Attorneys representing the two clinics _ the Center for Women's Health in Overland Park and the Aid for Women clinic in Kansas City _ indicated the changes would do little to end the legal fight.
"Although the regulations have changed in some ways, they remain unacceptable, imposing unnecessary and unreasonable requirements that will prevent physicians from providing the full range of reproductive health services to the women of Kansas, and running roughshod over patient confidentiality by giving the state broad access to private medical records," said Bonnie Scott Jones, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights who represents the Overland Park clinic. "We are carefully evaluating the changes now, and we are considering all legal options."
Attorney Cheryl Pilate, who represents the Kansas City clinic, said they also are evaluating the permanent regulations and assessing their impact on clinic operations.
"At this point, we are keeping all of our legal options open and will take action as appropriate, in the near future," she said in an email.
The new clinic licensing regulations are part of a wave of new restrictions on abortion this year in Kansas, where abortion opponents have capitalized on the election of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, an outspoken abortion opponent. Stricter licensing regulations were vetoed in 2003 and 2005 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an abortion rights Democrat who is now U.S. health and human services secretary.