June 26, 2012 — The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Friday announced final regulations designed to increase oversight of clinics that offer surgical abortion, the AP/Washington Post reports. The regulations will take effect July 23 (AP/Washington Post, 6/22).
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. 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, 12/6/11).
The new regulations require clinics to obtain licenses by demonstrating that they meet certain standards for anesthesia, emergency procedures, laboratory and radiologic services. The requirements are similar to those for ambulatory surgical centers, the AP/Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 6/22).
According to the Baltimore Sun, the health department has long held power to regulate abortion providers in the state, but it has not exercised that authority until now. Clinics will be given a 120-day grace period to apply for the licenses, which cost $1,500. States officials will be able to inspect facilities and fine or close facilities that do not comply.
"These are regulations that will strengthen the oversight of quality and safety of surgical abortion procedures offered to women in Maryland," Frances Phillips, deputy director of public health services for the state, said. The regulations will apply to 20 abortion clinics in the state, the majority of which already are voluntarily accredited by the National Abortion Federation and would have to make few changes to be in compliance, she added.
Advocates on both sides of the abortion-rights debate praised the health department for considering all interested parties in crafting the regulations. "We are making this procedure ... as safe as it can be without prohibiting access," Jodi Finkelstein, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, said (Walker, Baltimore Sun, 6/22).