New abortion law requires many clinics to remodel, costing more than $1 million

Friday, July 6, 2007 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:08 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri abortion providers will face new regulations for their clinics and new restrictions on teaching sex education classes.

Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation today placing more abortion clinics under government oversight by classifying them as ambulatory surgical centers. Planned Parenthood claims the law could force it to spend more than $1 million to remodel some of its buildings.

The new law, which will take effect Aug. 28, also bars people affiliated with abortion providers from teaching or supplying materials for sex education courses in public schools, and it allows schools to offer abstinence-only programs.

Missouri Right to Life, which backed the measure, claims groups such as Planned Parenthood have a conflict of interest in supplying materials for sex education courses, because they could potentially make money off female students who later visit their clinics.

A Planned Parenthood official denied any conflict and called that assertion “political propaganda.” The organization has several sex educators who visit public schools.

“Essentially, what Gov. Blunt and the legislature is doing is saying that teens need to be protected from information, not from sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancies,” said Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

The state already requires abortion facilities to be licensed, setting forth specific standards for their staff, operations and buildings. But because of the definition of an abortion facility — requiring abortions to generate half its revenues or patients — a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic is the only facility in Missouri actually regulated as an abortion clinic.

The Department of Health and Senior Services said the new language about ambulatory surgical centers would cause three additional abortion facilities to fall under its licensure, but it declined to identify them.

Planned Parenthood said its offices in Columbia and Kansas City both could need renovations to comply with the specifications. The organization is considering whether to challenge the law in court.

State regulations for ambulatory surgical centers, for example, require halls to be at least 8 feet wide leading to operating and recovery rooms and at least 5 feet wide elsewhere. Ambulatory surgical centers also must meet requirements for emergency equipment, infection control, medical staffing and numerous other things.

Brownlie estimates the Columbia facility performs 600 to 700 abortions a year. The Kansas City office performs about 100 abortions induced only by medication; the area’s surgical abortions are performed a few miles west at a Planned Parenthood facility in Overland Park, Kan.

The legislation also puts into law the Missouri Alternatives to Abortion Services Program, which lawmakers have funded through the budget for several years. It provides grants for pregnancy centers that encourage women to give birth instead of have abortions. The law authorizes a public awareness campaign to promote the centers.

Missouri Right to Life said a common element connects the provisions on sex education, clinic oversight and alternative-to-abortion grants.

“The theme is to make sure that women, all the way from young girls to crisis situations, get the best health care possible,” said Susan Klein, a lobbyist for Missouri Right to Life.

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