DN Editorial: Legislature overreaches on abortion law

Posted: June 16, 2011

THE PENNSYLANIA Legislature knows just how to prevent any more murderous abortion clinics like the one Kermit Gosnell operated.

Bigger elevators. Also, larger operating rooms, more parking spaces, covered entryways, and negative-pressure HVAC systems.

These are requirements for "ambulatory surgical facilities" that offer outpatient knee and eye operations. The Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday voted to require all 22 Pennsylvania abortion clinics to meet these higher standards, even though more than 30,000 women a year get safe abortions in Pennsylvania clinics without them. The bill now goes to the state House, which recently passed a similar, though not identical, bill.

Let it die there. These new requirements would not protect women's health - they would do just the opposite. They would not prevent outlaws like Kermit Gosnell from doing business. In fact, they might increase demand, since access to safe abortions in this state - already limited by cost and geography - would be even more drastically reduced.

If this measure becomes law, many or most of the 20 free-standing abortion clinics in Pennsylvania - the two others are in hospitals - would have to close at least temporarily to make millions of dollars of unnecessary improvements. And that would mean that the clinics would not be able to provide basic health care like cancer screenings and contraception for the low-income women they now serve.

Soon after a grand jury looking into the Gosnell case revealed that Pennsylvania had consciously ended annual inspections of abortion clinics in 1993, Gov. Corbett instituted wide-ranging reforms. The Pennsylvania Health Department now carries out annual inspections, as well as random visits of facilities if there are complaints. The inspections are very thorough - witness the 16-page checklist of requirements. In fact, Health Secretary Eli Avila recently testified to a Senate committee that Pennsylvania clinics are safe abortion providers.

So why did both houses of the Legislature get involved - especially when they supposedly are under intense pressure to deal with serious and complicated budget issues?

Is it just a coincidence that requiring upgrades like these is one of the tactics to limit access to abortion recommended by national anti-abortion- rights groups?

Republican leaders insist that they are only following the Gosnell grand jury report, which referred to abortion clinics as "ambulatory surgical facilities," although this is not their legal classification. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams agrees that the Legislature has "gone beyond the scope" of the grand jury's recommendations.

But conservative lawmakers in several other states also have pushed similar bills to burden abortion clinics with the expensive upgrades - forcing some of them out of business.

The Pennsylvania Legislature's new emphasis on abortion - it passed a law last week banning health insurance covering abortion from being offered in the exchanges created by the new Affordable Care Act - dovetails with the appearance of dozens of bills limiting abortion in Republican-controlled legislatures around the country.

The important point here is keeping women safe from the horrors of the Gosnell clinic. But those horrors would have been caught with the kinds of monitoring and inspections that should have been taking place by the Health Department - not by an inspector measuring the elevators to make sure they were big enough. *

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