Abortion clinics feel grip of new, tighter regulations

| Saturday, April 21, 2012

After police uncovered a "house of horrors" at a Philadelphia abortion clinic last year, legislators moved swiftly to introduce regulations governing providers, but two clinics the state ordered shut this week were in violation of longstanding state rules, officials said.

A Downtown clinic and another in Allentown closed after the registered physicians on staff quit -- the Abortion Control Act of 1982 requires clinics to have them -- leaving the state with 18 free-standing abortion providers.

Regulations lawmakers introduced in the wake of the investigation into the squalid Philadelphia clinic where two women died brought increased inspections. Some believe they may lead to standards so stringent that some clinics will have to close.

"These inspections and regulations are important and the clinics which were closed this week were not operating under the rules and regulations which are already in place, and we support them being closed," said Rebecca Cavanaugh, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, an abortion provider. "But we worry that for women with limited financial means, or limited means of transportation, this just removed two options."

American Women's Services on Fort Duquesne Boulevard was a registered abortion services provider as recently as last week, but the staff physician resigned and staff at the facility waited nine days to report it, state Health Department spokeswoman Holli Senior said. Staff at Allentown Medical Services also delayed reporting the resignation of the physician there, Senior said.

Bridget Wilson, spokeswoman for the Fort Duquesne location, did not return several emails and phone calls Friday, but on Thursday she said the clinic's physician had not quit and the clinic would appeal the closure. Calls to the American Women's Services call center also were not returned. There are about 34,000 abortions performed each year in Pennsylvania, Cavanaugh said.

"The day that place is closed for good will be a good day for women and their babies," Helen Cindrich, executive director of the Pittsburgh affiliate of the anti-abortion People Concerned for the Unborn Child, said of the Fort Duquesne Boulevard abortion provider.

The number of abortions performed at the two clinics closed this week are unavailable. Clinic staff aren't required to report them under the Abortion Control Act because neither facility receives state funds, Senior said.

After the Philadelphia clinic's operator, Kenneth Gosnell, was charged with murder in January 2011, several pieces of legislation surfaced to toughen regulations on abortion providers.

House Bill 574, which takes effect in June, toughens requirements on abortion clinics in Pennsylvania and includes an Ambulatory Surgical Facility Regulation, which requires abortion providers to have essentially the same staff qualifications and facilities as surgical clinics.

"Gosnell absolutely changed things, because we are seeing a lot more unannounced inspections to our facilities, which we welcome," Cavanaugh said. "People are more aware and are talking about the issues."

But she worries the extra regulations may make it financially impossible for some clinics to meet the new standards.

"Our concern is that more clinics will have to close, and that will remove more choices for women," she said.

Steven Brigham ran both of the clinics that closed this week. Maryland authorities filed murder charges against Brigham stemming from an investigation of an incident last year in which a teenager there was badly injured during a procedure to abort her 21-week-old fetus, police said.

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