March 28, 2014 — Raleigh, N.C.-based Planned Parenthood Health Systems announced it will open a new abortion clinic that will comply with a new state law (SB 353) that authorizes making ambulatory surgery center rules applicable to clinics, the Carolina Public Press reports. The move comes despite a recent state report suggesting there will be a delay in releasing the rules designed to enforce that law (Elliston, Carolina Public Press, 3/27).
An expansive antiabortion-rights measure, signed by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in July, allows the state Department of Health and Human Services to "apply any requirement" for ambulatory surgical centers to abortion clinics, so long as the regulations do not impede access to abortion.
DHHS was required to provide an update on its progress in developing the rules by Jan. 1, but there is no deadline to create the rules for abortion clinics (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/17/13).
DHHS Interim Report
In an interim report submitted to the state Legislature in December 2013, DHHS said that it would work to develop permanent rules, rather than spend time creating and implementing temporary regulations. The report also outlined the numerous steps required to finalize the permanent rules, suggesting that it could be some time before the final regulations are released.
Specifically, DHHS will first create a set of draft rules, which will then be submitted for approval to the state Office of Administrative Hearings and the Office of State Management and Budget. DHHS would then review the rules again, resubmit them to OAH for approval and then publish them in the North Carolina Register for public consideration.
DHHS at that time will invite stakeholders to comment on the regulations via the register notice, a public hearing and a public comment process. Once cleared, the rules would be formally adopted by the agency and submitted to the state's Rules Review Commission for final approval before being implemented.
The report did not specify how long the entire process would take.
Ashville Clinic Plans
PPHS said it would open a new abortion clinic in Ashville to replace Femcare, a clinic also based in Ashville that is the only abortion provider of the state's 15 clinics that would currently be able to meet the ambulatory surgical center standards. Femcare is scheduled to close.
PPHS Vice President of Communications Melissa Reed said, "It's certainly what we felt we needed to do in anticipation of what may come, so that was why we decided to build to that [ambulatory surgical center] standard." She said the new clinic is scheduled to open by summer.
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Suzanne Buckley said that while it is unknown when the final rules will be published, "The rule-making process is certainly a long one, and there are a lot of turning points along the way where things could change. But our hope is that folks let the process play out as it is designed to, to take into account sound science and medicine and make rules based on that and the practical implications of these laws, and let politics stay out of it."
Reed said, "We're anxious to see what" DHHS proposes, adding, "They did include a group of people that included experts on women's health care that are providers, and we felt that that showed a good faith effort." She continued, "They indicated that their primary concern was patient safety and not putting unnecessary building requirements on providers. We're hoping that that continues to be the focus, and that that's what we'll see when they reveal the draft regulations" (Carolina Public Press, 3/27).