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”Without regular inspections, providers like [abortionist Kermit] Gosnell continue to operate; unlawful and dangerous third-trimester abortions go undetected; and many women, especially poor women, suffer”

by | Mar 8, 2011

Editor’s note. Abortionist Kermit Gosnell is charged with eight counts of murder and was arraigned last week. Also last week we began the pivotally important section from the Grand Jury’s 261-page investigation of Gosnell’s shop of horrors: “How Did This Go On So Long?” We begin with the first paragraph of Section VI, which places the question in context.

The callous killing of babies outside the womb, the routinely performed third trimester abortions, the deaths of at least two patients, and the grievous health risks inflicted on countless other women by Gosnell and his unlicensed staff are not the only shocking things that this Grand Jury investigation uncovered. What surprised the jurors even more is the official neglect that allowed these crimes and conditions to persist for years in a Philadelphia medical facility. …

Since February 2010, Department of Health officials have reinstituted regular inspections of abortion clinics – finding authority in the same statute they used earlier to justify not inspecting.

[Janice] Staloski blamed the decision to abandon supposedly annual inspections of abortion clinics on DOH [Department of Health] lawyers, who, she said, changed their legal opinions and advice to suit the policy preferences of different governors. Under Governor Robert Casey, she said, the department inspected abortion facilities annually. Yet, when Governor Tom Ridge came in, the attorneys interpreted the same regulations that had permitted annual inspections for years to no longer authorize those inspections. Then, only complaint driven inspections supposedly were authorized. Staloski said that DOH’s policy during Governor Ridge’s administration was motivated by a desire not to be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions.

[DOH Senior Counsel Kenneth] Brody confirmed some of what Staloski told the Grand Jury. He described a meeting of high-level government officials in 1999 at which a decision was made not to accept a recommendation to reinstitute regular inspections of abortion clinics. The reasoning, as Brody recalled, was: “there was a concern that if they did routine inspections, that they may find a lot of these facilities didn’t meet [the standards for getting patients out by stretcher or wheelchair in an emergency], and then there would be less abortion facilities, less access to women to have an abortion.”

Brody testified that he did not consider the “access issue” a legal one. The Abortion Control Act, he told the Grand Jurors, charges DOH with protecting the health and safety of women having abortions and premature infants aborted alive. To carry out this responsibility, he said, DOH should regularly inspect the facilities.

Nevertheless, the position of DOH remained the same after Edward Rendell became governor. Using the legally faulty excuse that the department lacked the authority to inspect abortion clinics, Staloski left them unmonitored, presumably with the knowledge and blessing of her bosses, Deputy Secretary Stacy Mitchell and a succession of Secretaries of Health. The department continued its do-nothing policy until 2010, when media attention surrounding the raid of the Gosnell clinic exposed the results of years of hands-off “oversight.” Now, once again, the regulations, which have never been modified, apparently allow for regular inspections. This is, and always was, the correct position. The state legislature gave DOH the duty to enforce its regulations; the authority d power to do so are implicit in that duty. The department abandoned this responsibility without explanation, and without notice to the public or the legislature.

Whatever its motivation, DOH’s deliberate policy decision not to conduct regular inspections of abortion clinics did not serve the women of this Commonwealth. Nor did it protect late-term fetuses or viable babies born alive. The Grand Jury heard testimony from legitimate abortion providers and from abortion-rights advocates, and not one indicated that annual inspections would be unduly burdensome. The doctors we heard from, and the organizations that refer women to abortion providers, told us that the reputable providers comply with all of the state regulations and more. Annual inspections are not an issue with them. Many clinics in Pennsylvania are already inspected by NAF [National Abortion Federation], whose standards are, in many ways, more protective of women’s safety than are the state’s regulations.

Without regular inspections, providers like Gosnell continue to operate; unlawful and dangerous third-trimester abortions go undetected; and many women, especially poor women, suffer. These are all consequences of DOH’s abdication of its responsibility. Moreover, even if Staloski was instructed not to conduct regular, annual inspections, that does not explain why she failed to order inspections when complaints were received. It is clear to us that she was made aware, numerous times, that serious incidents had occurred at Gosnell’s clinic. These incidents, which evidenced alarming as well as illegal long-standing patterns of behavior, warranted investigation. Yet, in all the years she worked at the department, Staloski never ordered even one inspection.

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