Pa. increased oversight of abortion clinics in wake of Gosnell case

    Pennsylvania stepped up inspections of abortion clinics after the arrest of now-convicted murder Kermit Gosnell.


    When the crimes at the West Philadelphia clinic came to light, abortion foes — and some abortion-rights supporters — made the case that Pennsylvania’s lax oversight allowed Gosnell to operate outside the law for years.

    Today, abortion clinics are regulated as walk-in surgical facilities, and the state inspects those surgi-centers — including abortion clinics — every year.

    There are also random spot checks, and inspections sometimes follow a complaint.

    The Pennsylvania Department of Health posts results of its abortion clinic inspections 40 days after the last visit. 

    Many groups, such as the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, applauded the change.

    “For the sake of all Gosnell’s victims, let us never forget the rampant disregard for life that was allowed to continue for decades in our state,” said Michael Ciccociopp, federation executive director, in a written statement. “We hope that in the future, politics will not stand in the way of protecting the health and safety of women and newborns.”

    Overregulation a concern

    Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, said well-operated abortion clinics welcome regular inspections. She called Gosnell case “horrific,” but said it was also an “excuse” for lawmakers to change the rules.

    “Regulating abortion-care facilities out of business is a key component of the so-called ‘right-to-life movement,'” Tracy said. “We know that several providers simply could not undergo the kind of facilities construction that was necessary to keep going.”

    Tracy says many of Pennsylvania’s remaining abortion clinics sought grants or loans to make facility upgrades. She said, so far, those costs have not increased patient fees, but that’s still a worry for clinics.

    “The concern was that they were being overregulated, that some of these regulations were unnecessary for a procedure that, when done according to the appropriate standards of medical care. is one of the safest medical procedures one can have,” Tracy said.

    Nineteen locations around Pennsylvania provide abortion care. Since the state law change, Pennsylvania has closed two abortion clinics and three sites shut down voluntarily, according to a state Department of Health spokeswoman.

    Other legislation under consideration

    Critics of the surgi-center change say more legislative fallout from the Gosnell case is in the works. State lawmakers are considering two bills that would restrict the abortion coverage offered by health plans participating in the Pennsylvania health insurance exchange, under the Affordable Care Act.

    The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference backs the legislation.

    “Without SB 3/HB 818, every person enrolled (man or woman) in a plan within the exchange would be required to make a payment to fund elective abortion coverage for others,” according to a support memo from the Catholic Conference.

    Many states have already passed similar legislation.

    Susan Schewel, executive director of the Women’s Medical Fund, opposes the Pennsylvania bills. Schewel’s group raises money to help Medicaid beneficiaries or other low-income women get an abortion.

    “If a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy, that she feels she can’t become a parent again — or now — we know that she will do whatever it takes to terminate a pregnancy,” Schewel said. “And we know that comprehensive [health insurance] coverage, which includes coverage for abortion, saves women’s lives, gives them the ability to go to reputable providers.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal