14 Pa. abortion clinics licensed under new law

Posted: June 20, 2012

Fourteen of Pennsylvania's 22 abortion clinics have been licensed to continue providing surgical abortions under a controversial new law, passed after revelations that state regulators ignored horrors at a West Philadelphia abortion clinic, the state Department of Health announced Monday.

The law, enacted in December and effective Tuesday, requires clinics that perform surgical abortions to meet the same medical and construction standards as other outpatient surgical facilities.

Of the 14 clinics, six have been licensed to do abortions up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, and eight have been licensed for abortions up to about 18 weeks of pregnancy. However, all but one of these licenses are provisional; the department is giving the clinics from three to six more months to meet certain requirements that involve construction. Hillcrest Women's Medical Center in Harrisburg is the only clinic that has been granted a full license.

Of the eight unlicensed clinics, one voluntarily closed this month, two have been placed under a hospital license, and five will be allowed to offer only early, nonsurgical pregnancy terminations using Mifeprex, a pill designed for early abortion.

Secretary of Health Eli N. Avila, appointed last September, called the new law, Act 122, "a public health victory."

"Since my first day on the job, the Department of Health has been working tirelessly to ensure that the horrors that took place in the Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia could never happen again," Avila said.

Abortion providers had opposed tougher regulation, pointing out that Gosnell operated with impunity for two decades because the state didn't enforce existing rules. They said the law was driven not by safety concerns, but by abortion foes.

While several abortion providers continued to call the law "burdensome" and "unnecessary," they praised the Health Department for recognizing that some outpatient surgery rules are irrelevant or inappropriate for abortion care.

"Overall, I am reassured by the amount of thought that the Health Department has put into this process," said Kim Custer, head of the Planned Parenthood affiliate that runs abortion clinics in Allentown, Reading, and Warminster.

Perhaps the biggest points of ongoing contention are the construction guidelines, developed by a nonprofit organization and used by health care facilities across the country. While the Health Department has conceded that abortion clinics don't need to meet the most daunting standards — such as having huge "hospital-type" elevators and 400-square-foot operating rooms — it has not waived other costly rules.

"We feel confident that we will remain a licensed provider," said Maggie Groff, an official with Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. "But this [law] was clearly based on politics, not on the quality of care."

Countered Rep. Matt Baker (R., Tioga), chairman of the House Health Committee and an author of the law: "Notwithstanding the protestations, level heads prevailed in addressing concerns from a public health standpoint, not an emotional one."

Contact Marie McCullough at 215-854-2720, mmccullough@phillynews.com or @repopter on Twitter.

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