Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill last week updating inspection standards for the state’s abortion facilities. The Arizona law is part of a nationwide move to tighten regulations as states continue to react to the lax oversight that enabled Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, now a convicted murderer, to run his “house of horrors” for so long.
Termed the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” Arizona’s bill gives state regulators the right to make surprise searches of abortion facilities if they have reasonable cause. Until now, state regulators have had to obtain a warrant if they receive a complaint of health violations or abortion-related injuries. That’s special treatment afforded only to the abortion industry.
“Abortion clinics would be subject to the same unannounced inspection standards as every other healthcare institution in Arizona,” Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, told me. Herrod’s organization was one of the bill’s main public sponsors.
Continuing to oppose the law, Arizona chapters of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union argue that constitutional privacy claims entitle abortion providers and patients to different regulations and privileges than medical facilities and their patients. One of the abortion advocates’ key arguments, though, is that abortion is healthcare, and Herrod said the Women’s Health Protection Act was common sense: “[Women] should be afforded the same protection when they walk into an abortion clinic as they are when they walk into any other health care institution.”
Arizona is the latest state to act on inspection rules since a 2011 grand jury revealed the full extent of Gosnell’s “house of horrors.” Gosnell’s Pennsylvania facility wasn’t inspected for 17 years as government regulators shrouded the abortion industry, and the blood Gosnell spilt literally stained the building’s filthy floors.
According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, states have enacted more than 200 abortion restrictions since the Gosnell story broke. Many involved 20-week “fetal pain” abortion bans or restrictions on Obamacare abortion coverage, but many also shored up lax inspection standards like those that protected Gosnell. In 2011, Pennsylvania’s new pro-life Gov. Tom Corbett ordered state inspectors to conduct both annual and random investigations of abortion centers, and the state legislature updated facility standards to be like any other surgical center.
Other states also updated their inspection standards indirectly, simply by treating abortion centers as Pennsylvania did—as surgical centers. Ohio, for example, now requires abortion centers to be licensed as surgical centers, which were already subject to both announced and unannounced inspections. Similarly, a North Carolina law last year ordered the state to rewrite regulations similar to those for other surgical centers. It also ordered a review of the state’s understaffed inspection team, which couldn’t inspect facilities more often than every five years.
But some pro-life advocates see continued holes in accountability. Documents obtained this month by activist Jill Stanek indicate a Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood facility schedules its abortion days around announced inspections. Many facilities still fail, even with announced inspections. A North Carolina center closed last year for violations that included duct-taped anesthesia equipment.
Other states still struggle to perform any routine inspections. Delaware only investigates complaints. And this month, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah announced his resignation after documents revealed his office conducted just 45 inspections between 25 abortion centers between 2000 and 2012. Eight centers weren’t inspected at all.
Whether the Arizona law stands or falls hinges on the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and a 10-year Arizona court fight resolved in 2009. Because the state didn’t have regulations for abortion center inspections at the time, Herrod said, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state couldn’t conduct warrantless inspections. Arizona has since created that “closely regulated” structure for inspections.
“It was time to ensure abortion clinics are subject to the same standards as every other healthcare facility,” Herrod said. “It made no sense for abortion clinics not to be subject to the same standards.”
Another provision in the law makes it a misdemeanor to carry a child across state lines or otherwise avoid the state’s parental consent law. In addition, Arizona abortionists must report their compliance with the state’s law to protect babies born alive during abortions. A recent Live Action undercover video found an Arizona abortionist appearing to admit letting babies die after they were born alive. Abortionists will now self-report life-saving measures on the anonymous demographic form Arizona requires to track abortion data.