By DEBORAH SHAAR, Kansas News Service
Sedgwick County commissioners plan to ask the governor and health leaders to reconsider an exemption allowing abortion services to continue during the COVID-19 crisis.
Women’s health clinics, like other medical offices, are classified as essential businesses and are allowed to stay open during the state and county stay-at-home orders.
The commissioners voted 4 to 1 Wednesday to recommend that the clinics temporarily stop performing abortion services. They plan to send a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly, the county’s health officer, Dr. Garold Minns, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Commissioner Michael O’Donnell said he’s concerned that out-of-state providers and patients are coming to the Trust Women clinic in Wichita and could spread the coronavirus.
"This isn’t about abortion," he said. "This is about trying to stop the spread of COVID-19, and we have an entity that is encouraging out-of-state travel with no signs of self-quarantine."
O’Donnell initially proposed shutting down Trust Women and other similar clinics, but later revised his motion to limit a potential ban on abortion services only.
Commissioner Lacey Cruse voted against the proposal, saying the commission should be focused on more pressing issues.
"The idea that we are discussing this just to write a letter is absolutely political grandstanding at its finest," she said. "I feel like I’m at a campaign rally."
Commissioner David Dennis said the Trust Women clinic should follow other medical offices that have limited non-emergency appointments.
“I understand that [Trust Women] provides reproductive health so I don’t know that we want to shutter that organization,” Dennis said. “I think we need to limit the elective surgeries — the elective procedures that are going on.”
Trust Women’s founder and CEO Julie Burkhart submitted written testimony to the commission opposing any change to her clinic’s status that could affect operations. She said stripping the “essential” health care determination would be detrimental to people who need access to women’s health services.
The governor reinforced the clinics’ designation at a news briefing Tuesday.
“I think the women’s reproductive centers are considered a health care facility, and therefore essential,” Kelly said.
The statewide stay-at-home order is set to expire April 19 and Sedgwick County's order will resume until April 25. The public health orders were enacted to further restrict public activity and social distancing to slow the coronavirus outbreak.