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W.Pa. abortion clinics struggle under stricter regulations

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell is escorted to a waiting police van upon leaving the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, Monday, May 13, 2013, after being convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies who were delivered alive and then killed with scissors at his clinic.

State officials say they moved quickly to strengthen regulations for abortion clinics upon learning of a “house of horrors” in Philadelphia that performed gruesome late-term abortions.

The stricter rules led several local clinics to close and are causing scheduling problems for at least one Pittsburgh clinic.

Instead of undergoing abortions in Pittsburgh's Planned Parenthood five weeks into their pregnancies, some women have to wait until eight to 12 weeks, “forcing them to go out of their comfort zone,” said Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania spokeswoman Rebecca Cavanaugh.

Despite the later abortions, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation spokeswoman Micaiah Bilger said the stricter rules are needed.

“Abortion is legal in our nation, and until we can restore the protection for every single life from the moment of conception to natural death, we need to see greater oversight of abortion,” Bilger said.

On Monday, a Philadelphia jury found Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies who prosecutors say were delivered alive and killed with scissors. The jury found Gosnell guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a patient's drug-overdose death.

The Gosnell case led to changes in Pennsylvania before the conviction.

Enacted in June, a state law known as Act 122 requires Pennsylvania abortion facilities to be licensed as outpatient surgical centers. That subjects them to regular inspections. More than 200 state surveyors annually and randomly inspect each facility, Department of Health spokeswoman Aimee Tysarczyk said.

If an inspector determines that a facility is out of compliance, the center must submit plans for correction, Tysarczyk said.

“If abortions are going to be performed in this state, they shouldn't be performed at Third World-country levels. I think this verdict confirms passing the legislation,” said Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga County, who authored Act 122 in response to a grand jury report filed against Gosnell.

Since June, five Pittsburgh abortion clinics have closed, state Department of Health records show. The department shut down American Women's Services on Fort Duquesne Boulevard. Others voluntarily closed their doors.

Two registered facilities remain in Pittsburgh, records show.

“There's just no providers,” Cavanaugh said.

More women have flocked to Pittsburgh's Planned Parenthood since the local closures, causing scheduling problems and later abortions for some, Cavanaugh said.

The new regulations came with a hefty price tag.

Pittsburgh's Planned Parenthood spent more than $300,000 to comply with Act 122, including money for renovations. The facility on Liberty Avenue had to expand the size of some rooms, replace tile floors with laminate flooring and hire additional staff, Cavanaugh said.

“A lot of clinics have spent a significant amount of money. And that cost has to go somewhere,” she said, noting abortion costs range from $300 to $900. “Hopefully, we don't have to increase rates.”

Staff writer Megan Rogers contributed to this report. Christina Gallagher and Tom Fontaine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Gallagher can be reached at 412-380-5637 or cgallagher@tribweb.com. Fontaine can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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