By Cheryl Sullenger
Overland Park, Kansas — Since pro-life Republicans reclaimed the Governor’s mansion and strengthened majorities at the State House, Kansas has passed an impressive list of pro-life laws aimed at protecting women, reducing abortion, and eliminating funding to abortion clinics.
But the road to enactment has not always been a smooth one. Many of these laws have become entangled in long legal challenges mounted by a little known father and daughter team of abortionists from a small abortion clinic in the north-east Kansas community of Overland Park.
On Monday, the pair teamed with their long-time attorneys at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights to file yet another suit against Kansas’ newest pro-life law that bans dismemberment abortions. The Center also represents these abortionists in their ongoing suit against a 2011 clinic licensing law that would shut down all but one abortion facility in Kansas once it is finally allowed to take effect.
Just who are these litigious abortionists?
Herbert Hodes, 72, and his daughter, Traci Lynn Nauser, 45, operate the Center for Women’s Health, located in a non-descript red brick office building where first and second trimester abortions have been quietly taking place over the past 30 years.
Hodes and Nauser are not just abortionists. They are radical, even belligerent, abortion activists who are no strangers to litigation.
“Kiss and Tell”
In 2005, they were involved in a federal suit that the media dubbed the “Kiss and Tell” case, which attempted to challenge the designation of abortionists as mandatory reporters of suspected child sex abuse. Hodes testified in favor of not reporting. During his testimony, Hodes asked the defense attorney to define “protect,” when asked if he believed the state had an interest in protecting children.
His testimony ended when questioning about Hodes’ willingness to follow Kansas law was stopped by his attorney, who ordered him not to respond on the grounds that it might incriminate him.
“Hodes is a crusty old abortionist who isn’t afraid to do as he pleases, even if it violates the law. He has made it abundantly clear that he believes he is above it. This makes him particularly dangerous,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, which is headquartered in Kansas.
State Court Tactics
Hodes and Nauser’s tactic of using the courts to block abortion laws has been relatively successful at delaying implementation of some of the most important laws to come out of the Kansas State House in years.
In particular, the abortion team uses the more abortion-friendly state courts as the battle ground for their challenges, instead of the less receptive Federal Court system, where their challenges have little chance of prevailing. State courts also tolerate longer delays, and that works to their advantage.
“As long as legislation is tied up in court, they don’t have to comply. It is the only way Hodes and Nauser have stayed in business over the past four years,” said Troy Newman, President of the Kansas-based Operation Rescue. “As costs to the state to defend the laws rise because of their litigation, that is used as a propaganda tool to convince the public that pro-life laws are too expensive for Kansas. While their tactics are smart, they are only a temporary band-aid on their problems. Greater accountability for abortionists is coming. That’s a fact. In the end, they will lose.”
2011 Clinic Licensing
Never has that tactic worked better than in the case of the 2011 clinic licensing law that required for the first time the licensing of abortion clinics, which mandates that they meet certain minimum safety requirements. It also bans the use of webcam abortions and requires abortionists to maintain hospital privileges within 30 miles of their clinics. The law has the potential to put the Center for Women’s Health out of business for good.
Hodes and Nauser first applied for and were denied a waiver to the new requirements. When state inspectors arrived at the Center for Women’s Health in 2011 for the abortion facility’s first licensing inspection, Hodes ran them off.
They abortion team filed suit, which quickly became quagmired in a sympathetic county court. There, it inexcusably languished idly for four years and counting while Hodes and Nauser continue to operate their clinic outside the jurisdiction of any state oversight agency.
“It has been frustrating over the past four years to see a law that could have saved so many lives stall out in a county court while dangerous abortion clinics continued to endanger women. It was as if the Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt had no interest in pursuing a legal defense,” said Newman. “We know that when abortion clinics close, fewer abortions take place. We cannot calculate how many babies died and how many women are permanently scarred from abortions that would never have happened if the law had been allowed to go into effect at any time over the past four years. It’s tragic.”
Operation Rescue continued to urge the Attorney General’s office to stop delaying and defend the law that could close 2 out of 3 remaining abortion clinics in Kansas. Finally, in January, the political pressure bore fruit and the Attorney General’s office began to act.
In an effort to dislodge at least some provisions of the licensing law, the Attorney General’s office filed a motion for summary judgement earlier this year, then worked through the legislature to slightly amend a provision of the law that bans the remote distribution of abortion drugs through the use of a webcam system for the sake of clarification. The amendment, which easily passed both legislative houses, now moves to the desk of Gov. Sam Brownback for his sure signature.
Oral arguments on the State’s motion for summary judgment are set for next month.
Insightful Court Documents
Meanwhile, Operation Rescue has obtained Nauser’s Declaration and other documents recently submitted to the court detailing her objections to the 2011 clinic licensing law. Her declaration shines light on her and her father’s abortion business and the thinking behind their obsessive desire to keep it completely unaccountable to state laws.
Nauser indicated that she has been providing first and second trimester abortions up to 22 weeks with her father for 16 years in the same office where Herbert Hodes has conducted an abortion business for over 30 years.
Nauser bemoans aspects of the law she challenges, stating that she believes abortion clinics should be held to no higher standard than a doctor’s office. Anything more than that is “irrational,” she says.
Nauser believes that her clinic’s membership with the National Abortion Federation provides sufficient standards and oversight. However, Operation Rescue has found that the NAF member clinics are among the worst abortion facilities in the country.
“Approval by the NAF does nothing to assure us that an abortion facility meets any kind of standards. In fact, the NAF stamp of approval is a red flag of warning, considering the horrific conditions and practices we have documented at NAF facilities over the years,” said Newman.
For example, when Operation Rescue bought and closed the NAF-certified Central Women’s Services abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas in 2006, appallingly filthy and dangerous conditions were discovered. That deteriorating facility had never been inspected by state authorities in 23 years of operation.
Nauser described their abortion practice as one where both surgical and medication abortions are regularly done “through the first trimester but prior to 22 weeks LMP.” The abortions typically take 5 to 15 minutes to complete, according to Nauser.
While attempting to downplay late-term abortions, Nauser’s declaration appeared to focus on them almost entirely, including procedures used in very late abortions.
She indicated that she and her father conduct “labor induction” abortions at an unnamed Kansas hospital where the pair currently holds privileges.
Inductions abortions are done almost exclusively on later-term babies. The process was developed by the late Wichita abortionist George Tiller. The babies are injected through the woman’s abdomen with a drug that stops their hearts then the mother is prepared for labor and eventually delivery of the dead baby, which usually takes place one to three days later. Babies aborted in this way are usually birthed intact.
Interestingly, Nauser classified the induction abortions as “medication” procedures, even though they have traditionally been considered surgical procedures since surgical implements are used to either dismember the remains or ensure the uterus has been completely evacuated.
“We have noted a national trend for abortion businesses to shy away from the term ‘surgical’ when describing abortion procedures. This is an attempt to redefine surgical abortions in order to mitigate the impact of laws regulating ambulatory surgical centers across America,” said Newman. “Changing something’s name doesn’t change its nature. This is a smoke-and-mirrors tactic meant to deceive the American people and keep abortion clinics unaccountable.”
She describes doing a “significant number” of abortions on women having undefined medical “conditions” that “complicate the pregnancy and/or the abortion procedure.” She laments that if her office was unable to provide those abortions, “some of them would be unable to obtain those services in the region at all.”
However, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s abortion statistics, there has never been any abortions done to save the life of a woman in the history of Kansas abortion reporting, leaving us to wonder just how serious these “conditions” really are.
Nauser also stated that she and her father perform “a significant number” of abortions on babies that have been diagnosed with “fetal anomalies.” In general, abortions for fetal anomalies usually occur later than the first trimester since diagnoses cannot be made until the babies are larger in size.
Nauser underplays the gravity of aborting a living human being in the womb when she compares surgical abortions in the first and early-second trimesters as equivalent to IUD removals and biopsies.
“I have never seen patients suffering from a botched IUD removal or a biopsy die or be rushed to the emergency room in an ambulance, but I have seen many, many ambulances rushing women suffering from botched abortions to the hospital and have read far too many autopsy reports of women who died from abortions,” said Newman.
In fact, the question of how many women have actually died from abortions in Kansas is unanswerable.
Hodes himself drew attention to the subject of abortion deaths when testifying before the Kansas Legislature against the clinic licensing bill in 2011.
He nonchalantly told a legislative committee that he was aware of five abortion-related deaths in Kansas within the previous five years. Operation Rescue was shocked by this claim and demanded further investigation. However, when his comments drew public outrage and Board of Healing Arts scrutiny, Hodes retracted his statement. However, his retraction did not ease concerns that his original testimony could have been correct.
Nauser opposes the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) having “unfettered access” to patient records, which she considers an “intrusion” and “wholly unjustified.”
“I can think of no reason why KDHE would need such access to the records of abortion patients,” she stated, adding that disclosure to the Health Department “may not only cause the patient emotional harm, it may expose her to harassment and/or retaliation.”
Nauser’s concerns are completely without basis. Operation Rescue knows of no incidents where Health Department inspections ever caused any patient to be harassed in any way, making this argument a “red herring.”
In fact, medical record inspections have nothing to do with the women and everything to do with providing checks and balances on abortion clinics and providers. State health departments across the country routinely access patient medical records for the purpose of ensuring conditions and practices comply with health and safety codes. This is meant to protect the public from being abused by shoddy providers.
“Nauser’s hysterical language is meant to deflect from the true reason that health departments routinely inspect patient records,” said Newman. “We frequently see inspection reports that note deficiencies in patient care based on record inspections. Many times we have seen that when clinics that correct their substandard practices, they have been rightfully shut down. The identities of women are protected. Nauser is using ‘privacy’ as a shield to make sure her clinic’s practices stay secret and free from agency scrutiny.”
And it appears that Hodes and Nauser do have something to hide.
Hodes and Nauser have been sued at least 14 times, according to court records, yet their medical licenses remains free from discipline.
One malpractice suit that continues to make its way through the courts involves allegations brought by a patient that she suffered horrific injuries during what should have been a routine hysterectomy in 2012.
Suffering extreme pain after the procedure, Telisa Boyd repeatedly called Center for Women’s Health. She finally spoke to Nauser about her symptoms, but Nauser never attempted to readmit Boyd and never recommend that she seek emergency care, according to court documents.
Twelve days later, Boyd’s suffering was so severe that she finally sought emergency care. Tests indicated that Hodes and Nauser had severed her right side ureter “causing urine to spill into her abdomen and body.” This caused a massive infection and a second surgery that required a “prolonged and complicated” recovery period.
All About Exploitation
While claiming to care for women, Hodes and Nauser’s challenges have actually placed the lives and health of women at risk.
When their radical positions and deceptive rhetoric are unraveled, it becomes obvious that for Hodes and Nauser, protecting their ability to act out their radical abortion ideology, which exploits vulnerable women for financial gain, trumps just about everything else.
“These suits are really about protecting the abortionists’ ability to exploit without consequence,” said Newman. “We confident that sooner, rather than later, they will utterly fail.”
A hearing for oral arguments on the state’s motion for summary judgment in the 2011 clinic licensing case, which encompasses the webcam provision, is set to be heard in the courtroom of Judge Franklin Thies on July 17, 2015, at 1:30 p.m.