PHILADELPHIA –– The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed legislation May 12 that would require abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as other outpatient health facilities in the state.
The measure, H.B. 574, mandates more stringent fire and safety regulations, personnel and equipment requirements, and adherence to quality assurance procedures as is currently required of the state’s ambulatory surgical facilities, such as laser eye surgery centers or colonoscopy clinics.
The bill passed by a vote of 148 to 43 and will be sent to the state Senate.
It began as a response to a grand jury report that detailed deplorable conditions at the Women’s Medical Society, a clinic that Dr. Kermit Gosnell ran in West Philadelphia.
The report cited illegal late-term abortions that Gosnell performed there, which led to the death of one woman and at least seven newborn babies. The deaths, according to the report, resulted from “the reckless and illegal manner in which Gosnell operated his clinic.”
“The investigation of Dr. Gosnell’s government-approved clinic revealed filthy, unsafe conditions and evidence that unlicensed workers illegally treated patients,” said Amy Hill, communications director for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.
“Basic standards of cleanliness and infection control were not met. The office had no access for a stretcher in the case of an emergency. Exit doors were padlocked shut or blocked, resulting in a delay in the ability to respond in previous emergencies,” she said.
According to Hill, other free-standing ambulatory surgical facilities must comply with regulations designed to protect their patients.
“They are subject to unannounced annual inspections and sanctions or fines for not meeting the most basic health standards,” she said. “Clinics are required to have a registered nurse on site, follow infection control and equipment sterilization procedures, and must accommodate emergency equipment. Therefore, if a crisis occurs, the ambulance crew can get a stretcher into the clinic and quickly get the patient to a hospital.”
Hill added that the failure to require basic health standards and the practice of the Pennsylvania Department of Health to refrain from inspections “allowed for the existence of this horrific abortion clinic. House Bill 574 will prevent this from happening again.”
“The need for reform is evident,” said Rep. Matt Baker, the Republican who wrote the bill. “We cannot allow the type of treatment endured by women at a West Philadelphia clinic to continue there or anywhere else.”
“Simply put, under House Bill 574 the state’s abortion industry would not be exempt from commonsense safety standards that apply to other ambulatory surgery centers,” he said in a statement. “Abortion centers are performing serious surgical procedures and should be regulated in state law to prevent the horrors that transpired in the Philadelphia abortion clinic.”
Hill said critics of the bill claim abortion clinics will be forced to close if they must comply with regulations they call “cumbersome.”
“To comply, some (clinics) may have to make changes,” she said. “They claim a similar law in Texas put 18 of 20 abortion providers ‘out of business, never to return.'”
Hill said the statement is misleading, noting that an Internet search for abortion facilities in Texas revealed there are “at least 25 facilities performing the procedure all across the state. In fact, the number of abortions in Texas has increased in recent years, not decreased.”
She said it is not clear whether abortion clinics in Pennsylvania would close as a result of the legislation.
Instead, she said, “Pennsylvanians will agree that it is reasonable to expect clinics where surgical abortions are performed to be held to the same standard as a clinic performing any other surgical procedure.”