A grand jury report on the arrest of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is prompting hearings and new bills in Harrisburg. The report paints a picture of a dingy corner abortion clinic, filled with stray cats, dirty medical equipment and fetal remains. The Department of Health hadn’t inspected the site since 1993, and allegedly failed to act on complaints about the clinic. Officials visited the clinic just three times since it opened in 1979, according to the report. In a response to what the grand jury calls a “total abdication” of the department’s responsibility, Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Vance, who chairs the Public Health and Welfare Committee, is drafting a new bill. “It would just make it mandatory for the Department of Health to immediately respond to any complaints, in addition to doing much more timely inspections, and just [keep a] closer watch on [clinics],” she said. Vance added she’s equally appalled by allegations the Department of State never acted on complaints about Gosnell filed by other Philadelphia doctors. “That’s even more egregious in my opinion,” she said. Her committee will hold hearings on the matter this year. The panel will likely work with the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, in order to examine the State and Health Department issues at the same time. Vance’s House counterpart, Republican Health Committee Chair Matthew Baker, said he’d support her measure. He said he’s planning on drafting separate bills of his own, predicting broad support for legislative reform on the issue. “It’s really not about the issue of the traditional debate about whether you support abortions or not. What this is about is public health safety for anyone going into such a clinic, and that public health safety protocols be adhered to,” he said. Baker noted he’s not planning any House hearings on the issue. Meantime, Gov. Tom Corbett has ordered his acting State and Health secretaries to conduct investigations into why their departments failed to act on the tips they received about Gosnell’s operation – which included complaints from doctors who treated women Gosnell had severely injured. Spokesman Kevin Harley said Corbett met with Eli Avila and Carol Aichele shortly after he read the report, “and asked them to do an investigation of what went wrong, based on the findings of a grand jury. And to develop a plan – recommendations – of how this type of activity, behavior by a doctor – can be prevented.” Harley said.
Corbett will wait until Aichele and Avila get back to him before he endorses any specific bills. The administration isn’t suspending or disciplining any Health or State employees, as of right now, though Harley said Corbett found the report “horrific.”