Supporting common-sense clinic regulations
A Pennsylvania abortionist is currently on trial for seven counts of murder in a dangerously unsanitary clinic. Abortion clinics around the nation are rarely, if ever, inspected. Most recently, we have seen examples of unsanitary conditions at clinics in Arizona, Kansas, and Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, a Maryland woman died following a late term abortion which was performed at a clinic licensed under Maryland's new clinic regulations. Even though the clinic was licensed, there is no evidence that it was actually inspected by the state health department prior to the death of the young woman in February 2013.
Forty years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, these tragic headlines are increasingly common. Abortion advocates have long insisted that the legalization of abortion in the United States would protect women from so-called "back alley" abortions - ushering in an era of better healthcare and safety for women. The opposite has proven true. Forty years later, abortion procedures remain highly unregulated and unsafe. Much of the fault lies in the fact that neither abortion clinics, doctors, nor procedures are held to the high standards of health and safety we require of other medical facilities. Where is the outcry from those who insisted that legalizing abortion was "necessary" for the health and safety of women? These same people should be on the front lines of the campaign to create safer and more regulated abortion clinics, but they are nowhere to be seen.
Instead, pro-life leaders are the only ones stepping forward to advocate for the women exposed to deplorable conditions in abortion clinics. This makes one wonder, was women's safety really the impetus in the support of legalized abortion in the U.S. or was there another agenda altogether?
Three years ago, Kermit Gosnell's Pennsylvania abortion clinic "house of horrors" (the term a federal prosecutor used to describe it) was finally shut down in the wake of a drug raid that uncovered much more than an abuse of prescription drugs. Agents found "deplorable and unsanitary" conditions, "including blood on the floors; parts of aborted children stored in jars; post-operative recovery areas that consisted solely of recliners; padlocked emergency exits; and broken and inoperable emergency equipment" (AUL, Defending Life 2012, p 171).
It was revealed that Gosnell regularly killed viable children after delivery and allowed unlicensed staff to perform gynecological exams and administer controlled substances. He went on trial this month on seven counts of first-degree murder in relation to the deaths of born alive infants and one adult patient, and will later be tried on prescription drug charges. As horrific as these conditions are, just as appalling is the fact that the state health officials in Pennsylvania ignored numerous complaints about Gosnell's facility for years. It had not been inspected since 1993(Id.).
Despite the evidence, reasonable clinic regulations have been opposed at every turn by abortion proponents. Just as an ambulatory surgical center is tightly regulated by the state to ensure that all patients are protected, so should abortion clinics be subjected to similar regulation. These commonsense regulations are meant to prevent women from being exposed to substandard conditions, injury and death.
Recently, the Virginia Board of Health opened a comment period for Virginians to voice their support or opposition to the new abortion clinic regulations passed by the Virginia General Assembly. Particularly, the Board will vote on whether or not to approve a measure that would require abortion clinics to meet hospital construction standards. The regulations passed in Virginia reflect the growing acknowledgment of the appalling lack of oversight given to abortion in the United States. The Commonwealth of Virginia should be commended, along with every other state implementing tighter clinic regulations, for putting the health and safety of its citizens above the convenience of clinic operators and the desire to shroud the abortion procedure in a bubble of secrecy. However, these states must be willing to ensure that these new regulations are consistently implemented or they will do no more good beyond being well-intentioned words on a page.
The "right" to abortion as expressed by the Roe and Casey court decisions is applicable only to the woman who chooses to have an abortion. There is no right for abortion facilities, owners, or operators to be exempt from legitimate state health objectives; nor is there any right to make a profit from the operation of an abortion facility. The Supreme Court has noted that the State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortions are performed in a manner that ensures maximum safety for the patient (Roe v. Wade). Additionally, the Court has said that the State has the right to distinguish the abortion procedure from every other medical procedure because no other medical procedure involves the "purposeful termination of a potential life" (Harris v. McRae). Keeping in mind that the decision to have an abortion has grave moral implications and can result in serious physical and psychological complications, the State has the right and duty to protect its citizens by implementing these commonsense regulations.
Anna Higgins, J.D., is director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.