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State Records Affirm Abortion is Safe, Already Highly Regulated, RH Reality Check Analysis Shows

State Records Affirm Abortion is Safe, Already Highly Regulated, RH Reality Check Analysis Shows

August 22, 2013 — State records requested as part of a House investigation into abortion regulations and safety do not substantiate conservatives' calls for greater oversight but instead demonstrate that the procedure is safe and well-regulated, according to an RH Reality Check analysis, The Atlantic Wire reports (Jones, The Atlantic Wire, 8/21). According to the Washington Times, the documents also could be used during debate in the Senate, if abortion-rights opponents in that chamber decide to take up a House-approved bill (HR 1797) that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 8/21).

The House investigation began this spring, when Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) -- chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health -- and five other GOP leaders issued letters to state health officials noting that the Kermit Gosnell trial raised "troubling questions" about states' oversight of abortion clinics and requesting that officials provide records detailing state abortion regulations by May 22. That same month, House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Rights Chair Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) sent a letter asking all state attorneys general to detail by June 1 how their states adhere to the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (PL 107-207) and similar state laws (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/10).

RH Reality Check submitted its own request to states, asking for copies of the documents they provided the congressional committees ("Feminist Wire," Ms. Magazine, 8/21). Thirty-eight state attorneys general and 32 health departments have responded so far. RH Reality Check has compiled the documents into its State of Abortion tool and plans to add additional documents as they are received.

RH Reality Check's Findings

The RH Reality Check analysis "shows that congressional Republicans will find no support for their arguments in favor of new restrictions on abortion care in the evidence presented by the states," according to the publication. The state records demonstrate that abortion -- contrary to conservatives' claims "that women are being put at risk by abortion services" -- is "highly regulated and overwhelmingly safe."

Specifically, the analysis found that most states routinely inspect any facility where abortions can be provided, and most have found little or no evidence that patients have been harmed by the procedure. In addition, most states do not levy criminal charges against abortion providers, though several states -- including Michigan, South Dakota and Indiana -- have prosecuted women for allegedly killing their newborns or causing the deaths of their fetuses.

The analysis also found that only in the case of illegal abortion provider Gosnell, in Pennsylvania, were there reported incidents of infants being born alive following attempted abortions. Most states said they would treat such crimes as homicides.

The analysis found that most states already "actively and aggressively monitor abortion services." RH Reality Check also acknowledged that not all states have provided documentation and that the findings do not "necessarily paint an exhaustive view of how abortion is performed by all facilities and providers" (Coutts, RH Reality Check, 8/21).

Reaction to Analysis

Aides for the House Judiciary Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee said they are still receiving state documents and that any "[c]onclusions made at this point are premature."

Meanwhile, Marjorie Dannenfelser -- president of the Susan B. Anthony List -- said that "RH Reality Check should let Congress do the work the American people elected it to do" (Washington Times, 8/21).

RH Reality Check Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson said the documents "reveal that abortion care across the country is not only highly regulated, but overwhelmingly safe." She added, "Neither Congress nor state legislatures can provide a shred of evidence to back up their push for further restricting access to safe abortion care" ("Feminist Wire," Ms. Magazine, 8/21).