Md. Releases Revised Regulations for Surgical Abortion Facilities

December 6, 2011 — The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Friday released revised regulations designed to increase oversight of surgical abortion clinics, the Baltimore Sun reports. The regulations will be open to public comment after being published in the Maryland Register next month.

The regulations stem from an incident in 2010 in which a New Jersey physician was found to have illegally performed abortions at the American Women's Services clinic in Elkton, Md. (Kilar, Baltimore Sun, 12/3). The health department found a "lack of an appropriate transfer procedure for a patient needing emergency care" and also cited complications resulting from poor administration of anesthesia (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/3).

Under the new regulations, facilities that provide surgical abortion care must apply for a state license every three years, open their facilities and records for inspection, designate an administrator responsible for everyday operations and provide appropriate transportation to a hospital in an emergency. According to the Sun, the health department considered more than 60 sets of comments from stakeholders before releasing the latest version, which include greater privacy protections and restrictions on who can administer anesthesia and sedation.

The anesthesia-related requirements include that anesthetics be administered by a qualified nurse or physician. In addition, a person certified in "basic life support" must be present and clinics must have life support equipment on hand.

Advocates on both sides of the abortion-rights debate spoke positively about the regulations. Ann Rasenberger, interim head of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, expressed support for the state's "evidence-based approach" but indicated she has not had a chance to review the regulations. Some abortion-rights advocates are concerned that certain regulations will create financial and administrative burdens for providers that could limit women's access to abortions. PPM will give particular scrutiny to the anesthesia requirements as the process continues, according to Rasenberger.

Nancy Paltell -- associate director at Respect for Life, a division of the Maryland Catholic Conference -- said the state did "an outstanding job at putting the health and safety of women first in these regulations," though she faulted the regulation's definition of a surgical abortion facility for excluding clinics that provide abortions only in medical emergencies (Baltimore Sun, 12/3).