Pa. Abortion Clinics Bracing for New Regulations

December 22, 2011 — Operators of abortion clinics in Pennsylvania say complying with new state regulations would be prohibitively expensive and could force clinics to close or raise fees for low-income women, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. The regulations are part of a bill (SB 732) that Gov. Tom Corbett is expect to sign this week (Levy, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/21).

The legislation would require clinics to comply with the same standards as ambulatory surgical facilities, which perform procedures with a higher risk of complications than abortions. According to the legislation, clinics would have to upgrade current facilities or relocate to new buildings with hospital-grade elevators, larger operating rooms, and parking lots and driveways large enough for ambulances. In addition, the bill would require clinics to have a registered nurse on staff at all times, regardless of whether abortion procedures were being performed. Clinics would have six months to make the changes.

Proponents of the bill argue that it is necessary to protect women's safety following the case of Kermit Gosnell, who was indicted by a grand jury in January for an illegal abortion operation that led to the deaths of seven infants and an adult patient.

Opponents of the bill say it unfairly targets clinics that have operated safely for years (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/16). The potential changes -- such as adding more sinks and modifying ventilation systems -- will do nothing to improve women's safety, they argue.

The state Department of Health is charged with enforcing the measure and could choose to waive some or all of the requirements. Clinic operators say there is not a single clinic in the state that currently complies with the new standards.

Reaction From Clinic Operators

"We don't know how the department is going to respond to these, but if they don't (waive the regulations), what's going to happen to these facilities?" said Jennifer Boulanger, executive director of the Allentown Women's Center. It would be difficult to complete the changes within six months, and the clinic likely would have to close during construction, which would threaten its financial sustainability, Boulanger said.

Suellen Craig, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central Pennsylvania, said implementation of the new standards would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses for the organization, which has a $3 million budget to operate five clinics, one of which provides abortion care.

However, clinic operators also noted that they are committed to finding a way to continue providing abortion care. Rebecca Cavanaugh, vice president for public affairs of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, said, "Right now we are in a stage of kind of waiting to see what will happen" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/21).