UPDATED: Kansas Lawmakers Seeking to Protect the Health of Women? A Crock of You Know What If Ever There Was One

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UPDATED: Kansas Lawmakers Seeking to Protect the Health of Women? A Crock of You Know What If Ever There Was One

Jodi Jacobson

In imposing new and medically unnecessary regulations on providers of abortion care, Kansas lawmakers claim they are just interested in "protecting the health of women."  Instead, what they are doing is ensuring more women face greater health risks.

UPDATE:  On Friday, July 1, 2011 a federal judge granted an injunction preventing the Kansas TRAP law from going into effect.  More about that here.

Among the many Orwellian tactics used by the extreme right now dominating the legislatures of so many states is to claim that, in persistently restricting access to reproductive health care, they are “protecting women,” when in reality they are progressively endangering the health and lives of their female constituents.

Such is the case with regulations passed by the Kansas legislature and signed into law by virulent anti-choice Kansas Governor Sam Brownback.  As of this morning, because of efforts to “protect women,” only one of three providers of abortion care in Kansas remains open (a Planned Parenthood affiliate), while two others have gone to court to challenge new, burdensome and unnecessary regulations meant in reality not to improve access to or the saftey of care, but to close them down.

First, the facts, which seemingly are so irrelevant to lawmakers today. 

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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More than 90 percent of abortions occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.  Legal, early surgical termination of pregnancy performed by a trained provider is among the safest possible surgical procedures of any kind, anywhere.  Early medical abortion (using medications to end a pregnancy) has a similar safety profile. Less than 3 percent of women who undergo early termination of pregnancy report any complications whatsoever; the vast majority of those “complications” are issues so minor they can be handled in a medical office or clinic.  Fewer than 0.5 percent of women have serious complications from early termination that require hospitalization or surgery.

By comparison, rates of complications from tooth extraction can be as high as six percent.  Complications from having a first-trimester aspiration abortion are considerably less frequent and less serious than those associated with giving birth.  Indeed, complications of safe abortion are considerably less than pregnancy itself, though I don’t see anyone pushing to ban that.

Still, in May, the Kansas Legislature passed a law requiring abortion facilities to be licensed under a new licensing scheme and to meet a number of unnecessary, burdensome requirements which do nothing to protect the health and safety of patients. Then, “[o]n June 17th,” notes Peter Brownlie of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Kansas and Mid-Missouri (CHKMM), “the Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued draft temporary regulations, which include[d] requirements which are not only unnecessary, but also go well beyond the standard of care.”

It is blatantly obvious that the real agenda is to limit women’s access to abortion, which by extension immediately makes it less safe.  In the case where a woman has decided she can not–for whatever her own reasons–carry a pregnancy to term, the safest thing to do is to seek termination as early as possible.  Superfluous regulations put in place to delay or deter women from obtaining abortions–along with stigma, discrimination, and clinic harassment–only push them later.  The later a termination is performed, the more risks are involved.  While second trimester abortions are both relatively rare and relatively safe, especially early on in that phase, they involve higher risks than do first trimester abortions. 

But causing delays and obstacles are what Kansas legislators are all about.

About 8,000 women a year seek abortions in Kansas and, according to TIME magazine, the Planned Parenthood clinic performed about 5,000 abortions last year, while two other providers handled 3,000. “That likely includes a large number of patients from across the state line,” writes Karen Ball, “where Missouri already has tough restrictions in place and there are no clinics in the urban core.”  The fact that women in Missouri have to travel to another state is proof-positive of the delays incurred by restrictive laws and policies.

Kansas legislators are so concerned with the safety of these women that they are requiring clinics to comply with what medical experts have noted are “hastily drafted, constantly changing, unnecessary and burdensome requirements,” or face criminal penalties for performing abortions.  In reality, they are seeking to close down all clinics and medical offices providing abortion care by dictating, for example, the square footage of janitors’ closets, the size of staff dressing rooms and the size of patient lockers.  They are requiring that clinics be prepared to deal with a “live birth,” a completely superfluous and misleading regulation because no abortions performed in these clinics are done near viability. So if your medical office has safe equipment, trained personnel, and doctors on hand experienced in providing abortion care it does not matter, because if the janitor’s closet is a foot “too small” under these laws (too small for what?  I don’t know…), you are no longer qualified to perform abortions.

Let’s be very clear: None, absolutely none, of these regulations has any bearing on the safety of abortion care provided in these clinics.

Dr. Herbert Hodes, who appeared last night on The Rachel Maddow show and is one of the two providers now filing suit, told Time that abortion is just one of the services he and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, provide in their private Ob-Gyn practice. He delivers babies at nearby hospitals and does other procedures such as tubal ligations in his office. He said there’s no reason to mandate patient lockers — noting hospitals usually just put a patient’s belongings in a bag under the gurney when they go from pre-op to surgery to recovery.  I personally have been there and done that with my personal belongings when obtaining an abortion earlier in my life and did exactly the same thing when I had outpatient knee surgery two years ago. I don’t remember them having to measure the janitor’s closet before they operated on my knee.

“It’s a joke and a sham,” Hodes told TIME. “The only purpose is to shut down access to abortions.” He noted he complies with rules from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, since “they’re realistic regulations drawn up by doctors for doctors. We all know how much legislators know about health care for women — nothing,” Hodes said.

Still, Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, carried on the charade, telling Time that it was not the law’s intent to shut down abortion clinics.  Abortion providers are “putting on a show,” she said. “They’re the ones who said if you make abortion legal, we’ll keep women safe,” she said.

I repeat: Delays make abortion less, not more safe.

Still further evidence of how deeply concerned Kansas lawmakers are with women’s health and safety also came in May, when the legislature passed a budget amendment to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving Title X family planning funding solely used to provide life-saving cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control and basic family planning to low-income and uninsured Kansas women, men and teens. In other words, they are so concerned with the safety and health of women, they’d rather let them die of preventable causes than take the risk of living, or face more unintended pregnancies rather than having the means to prevent them in the first place.

That kind of concern.

“It’s disappointing that we have to spend time and money on these misguided laws,” said Brownlie in a statement.

“However, we will not stand by and allow politicians to intimidate women and create more barriers to their ability to get health care. If the Governor and his allies were serious about reducing abortion, they would focus on supporting Planned Parenthood and other family agencies in their efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy, the root cause of abortion,” said Brownlie. “Instead, Governor Brownback chose the path of expensive and unnecessary litigation for Kansas for the next year or two, wasting taxpayer money—something that could have been avoided if he and the Legislature had done what they were elected to do: focus on jobs, the economy and state spending.”

“This is radical, extreme government intrusion into private health care,” Brownlie said.

Both Drs. Hode and Nauser and Jeff Pederson of Aid to Women continue to fight in court, though as of today, Aid to Women can no longer provide abortion care.  A hearing before U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia has been set for 3 p.m. today, in which providers argue that the these “burdensome and costly requirements that are not medically necessary or appropriate.” 

While the Planned Parenthood clinic remains open, already-limited access to abortion has now been drastically reduced in Kansas, thereby increasing the costs and delays incurred by women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.  The likely outcome is that there will be an increase in abortion migration to other states, which almost certainly will make many of these abortions later than they otherwise would have been; an increase in women seeking other and less safe means to terminate pregnancies they are desperate not to take to term; and an increase in women simply forced to bear a child they did not want, which is tantamount to reproductive slavery.  The majority of Pederson’s clients, for example, are low income or minority women who are in precarious economic conditions to begin with.  Pederson said he fears folks will go back to pre-Roe v. Wade days and seek home remedies or other means to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. “I can remember what it was like before.”

What it was like before is that women died.  That is how much the Kansas legislature and anti-choice extremists wants to ensure the safety of women.