As Kansas Abortion Clinic Closes, Disagreement Over The Reasons

As Kansas Abortion Clinic Closes, Disagreement Over The Reasons

By Brad Cooper, The Kansas City Star

The future couldn’t have been gloomier for the inner-city abortion clinic in Kansas City, Kansas.

Increasingly tighter state restrictions. Relentlessly hostile opposition. And fewer patients.

Targeted by anti-abortion forces for years and nearly closed in 2011 by new state licensing requirements, Aid for Women locked its doors in late July.

“I’m tired of fighting the young girls’ fight,” said Jeff Pederson, the clinic manager.

The closing leaves Kansas with three abortion clinics, two in Kansas City suburban Johnson County and one in Wichita.

It was the latest in a series of closings nationwide in an ever more difficult political climate for abortion providers.

“It is incredibly challenging,” said Julie Burkhart, who last year opened an abortion clinic in Wichita. “We have very active anti-choice groups that make it their job to try and shut us down.”

Abortion opponents were jubilant when reports surfaced that Aid for Women closed July 25.

“Kansas City Abortion Free!” declared the website for Operation Rescue. Kansans for Life joined in, sending out a news release celebrating the closure of the “sordid clinic.”

Pederson won’t specifically say what led to the closing, although he said he was exhausted from getting “beat up” by a legislature determined to limit abortion.

While pressure from abortion opponents contributed to the closing — the clinic had been picketed and a complaint was lodged against the facility with state medical regulators — Pederson talked vaguely about other factors.

“It’s not just one thing. It’s a plethora of things.”

Abortion foes were skeptical about the clinic’s reasons for closing. They believe their pressure, coupled with new state laws ensuring women are informed about abortion risks, helped drive the clinic out of business.

“This abortion mill was the one making the least amount of money and was the most disgusting,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue.

Clinics across the country are closing in the face of new restrictions that abortion opponents say are intended to protect women and that abortion supporters say are obstacles to a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Virginia and Pennsylvania have each lost five clinics since 2011. Texas has lost 21 clinics, and Arizona has lost four. Missouri has just one left, in St. Louis, after three closed since 2011.

A federal appeals court halted a Mississippi law that would have closed that state’s only abortion clinic. The law required clinic doctors to get admitting privileges at local hospitals, something they were unable to do.

Many of the clinic closings are the result of tough new rules — like Mississippi’s — aimed at curbing abortion.

In other cases, it’s an inability to replace an aging generation of physicians to provide a service that’s been stigmatized.

But the closing of the Kansas City, Kansas, clinic raised a different issue: fewer patients.

The clinic’s physician, Ronald Yeomans, said Aid for Women wasn’t seeing enough patients to stay in business. He attributed that partly to better use of contraception, reducing unwanted pregnancies.

He also said the opening of the clinic in Wichita took away some of the western Kansas patients who once traveled to the his clinic.

“We basically just reached a place where we weren’t needed anymore,” Yeomans said.

The number of abortions is plummeting, a trend attributed to reduced demand because of higher contraception use and hundreds of new laws restricting the procedure.

A study released last winter by the Guttmacher Institute concluded that state laws enacted from 2008 to 2011 were minimally restricting access to abortion.

Researchers concluded from numbers showing declines in the birth and abortion rates that women were turning to more effective forms of birth control.

The study found abortions were falling nationally, including in states such as California, New Jersey and New York that tend to be more supportive of abortion rights.

“That these states also experienced a slight drop in the number of clinics offering abortion services may reflect a decline in demand as opposed to the imposition of legal barriers,” the study said.

The anti-abortion group Americans United for Life called the Guttmacher study “an abortion industry propaganda piece short on data and long on strained conclusions.”

When the study came out, Americans United for Life president and CEO Charmaine Yoest said “common sense” limits on the procedure are protecting women and the unborn.

“No matter how many abortions there are, abortion carries serious risks,” Yoest said in a statement. “Abortion should come with a warning label and be regulated like the medical procedure that abortionists claim it to be.”

Guttmacher, which tracks reproductive rights issues, acknowledged that its research did not account for the surge in new abortion laws that states passed after 2010.

The institute said more research will be needed to know their effect on abortion rates.

Thirty states enacted 205 laws limiting abortion rights from 2011 through 2013, more than all the restrictions passed during the decade before, according to Guttmacher.

Legislatures banned abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, required abortions in hospital-type settings and required abortion physicians to secure admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Last year, Texas passed a law requiring abortion clinics to meet standards for surgical care. It also required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at an area hospital.

In less than a year, the number of abortion clinics in Texas fell to 19 from 35. Eventually, abortion rights supporters believe the state will be left with six abortion providers as the Texas law is phased in.

In 2011, Kansas passed a licensing requirement that nearly closed all of the state’s abortion clinics, including Aid for Women. The law was challenged in court and blocked. The case is still pending in state court.

The laws are “designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, to access services and make it difficult for providers to perform abortions,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute.

Pederson acknowledged, for example, that he would not have been able to meet the new Kansas licensing requirements if they were ever put into place.

Carole Joffe, a sociologist at the University of California-San Francisco who follows reproductive rights issues, said it can be hard to separate which clinics are closing because of falling demand and which clinics are shutting down because of the costs of complying with new laws.

“In some cases, we have very clear-cut evidence that clinics are closing because of political reasons, not because of financial” reasons, Joffe said.

There has been a significant decline in abortions in Kansas. The abortion rate for Kansas residents fell about 34 percent from 2006 to 2012. During the same time, the state’s birth rate fell about 6 percent.

While abortion rights supporters have attributed the decline to new laws, they also have pinned the decrease on fewer unintended births and the shooting death of Wichita abortion provider George Tiller in 2009.

Burkhart, chief executive of Wichita’s South Wind Women’s Center, said demand for abortion is reduced by limited access, contraception and women using drugs to induce their own abortions.

“What it boils down to is we’re going to have lower abortion rates,” she said.

Operation Rescue’s Newman said the clinic closures are a sign that the anti-abortion movement is succeeding as it educates women about the procedure.

“We are taking away their business,” Newman said. “We’re convincing women not to have abortions before they even decide to look up an abortion clinic. All around, the pro-life movement is winning.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Abortion Foes Try A Local Approach

Abortion Foes Try A Local Approach

By Brad Cooper, The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — David Shepard knew he would grapple with a string of tough issues when he ran for mayor of Mission, Kan.

Redevelopment. Streets. Storm water.

But abortion?

Shepard fell 16 votes short in last April’s election after his opponent was endorsed by Kansans for Life, which sent out postcards backing his rival.

The city councilman still scratches his head. He wonders just what abortion had to do with presiding over a Kansas City suburb.

“It seems misplaced to me,” Shepard said.

Not to anti-abortion groups. They say no race is too local, no office too small, to make sure voters know where a candidate stands.
America’s long-standing civil war over abortion grows more local all the time.

Sometimes the fights — in races as obscure as those for water district board — aim to make sure a candidate with an opposing abortion view never gets a toehold in politics.

Sometimes control of a city council or zoning board can determine whether and where a particular abortion clinic might operate.
Other times, the battles simply reflect the desire to fight abortion on all fronts. After all, it springs from an issue that many see as nothing less than a life-and-death matter.

“Pro-life people want to know,” said Mary Kay Culp, the executive director of Kansans for Life. “They certainly want to know when it comes to voting. When we don’t tell them, they call us.”

But the abortion issue is surfacing in local government in a variety of ways.

Earlier this month, Kansans for Life persuaded the Johnson County Commission to delay appointing a chief public health adviser. The group was upset about testimony he gave in support of a physician associated with late-term abortion provider George Tiller.

About the same time, the Saline County, Kan., Commission rejected a $6,000 state grant for contraceptives after one member of the panel compared intrauterine devices to murder. A commissioner opposed to abortion thought the contraceptive would abort a pregnancy, an argument local health officials disputed.

Last fall, Albuquerque, N.M., voters rejected a ballot measure seeking to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The referendum, which drew thousands of campaign workers from outside the state, was believed to be the first in the country for a municipality.

Abortion opponents say local government — not necessarily Congress or the statehouse — is fertile ground for stopping abortion.

“That is definitely the push, that’s definitely where we’re going to win,” said Troy Newman, the president of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

Newman claimed victory last year when city zoning rules were used to effectively close Virginia’s busiest abortion clinic in Fairfax.
Needing new office space to comply with state regulations for abortion providers, the clinic looked to move. But it was denied a permit at its new location because parking wasn’t adequate.

Fairfax later amended its zoning rules to define abortion clinics as medical facilities, meaning they would need city council approval. Under the old rules, abortion providers didn’t need council approval.

“There are a lot of pro-life organizations focusing on Washington, D.C., but where has that gotten us the last 40 years?” Newman said. “Where we are making communities abortion-free is at the local level.”

Not always. Last year, abortion opponents tried using zoning to stop the reopening of the Wichita abortion clinic Tiller ran before he was shot to death in 2009.

Kansans for Life handed the city petitions with 14,000 signatures seeking to change the zoning so abortions couldn’t be provided at the site. Ultimately, operators of the abortion clinic prevailed, opening the facility in April 2013.

Some suburban leaders don’t see the relevance of abortion to city government. They say it is about paving streets, caring for parks, and ensuring adequate police and fire protection.

Abortion opponents counter: Just because local government doesn’t directly regulate abortion doesn’t mean it can’t play a role. Today’s local water board member could be tomorrow’s state senator voting on abortion bills.

For instance, Kansans for Life in 2007 endorsed then-state Rep. Rob Olson of Olathe for a spot on the Johnson County water district board.

In 2011, Olson was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate and elected to a full term a year later. He opposes abortion.

“It’s about political advancement,” Culp said. “You make sure your guys advance to the next level.”

Some of the local pressure is coming from abortion rights supporters.

In Portland, Maine, the city is defending a legal challenge to a 39-foot buffer zone keeping protesters at a distance from a local Planned Parenthood clinic.

Abortion protesters are trying to block the law in court. A federal judge heard arguments in the case Thursday but let the law stand until the U.S. Supreme Court decides a similar case from Massachusetts.

Cities have stepped into the abortion issue before, most notably with regulations approved in 1978 by Akron, Ohio. The city’s law required parental consent for minors seeking an abortion and a 24-hour waiting period for the procedure, among other things.

The Supreme Court struck down the Akron law in 1983. But many of its provisions, including parental consent and the waiting period, were found to be constitutional by the high court a decade later.

Glen Halva-Neubauer, who studies abortion politics at Furman University, said the latest flurry of abortion activity might be a return to the past.

“It’s another renaissance of local activity,” Halva-Neubauer said. “It does seem like a lot of things going on. The question is what’s driving that.”

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

Interested in U.S. politics? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!