Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams says a bill aimed at tightening state regulations for abortion clinics in Pennsylvania goes beyond what a grand jury recommended.
The bill, which was forwarded by a House committee last month, follows allegations that a Philadelphia doctor performed illegal abortions that killed a patient and viable infants, whose spinal cords were severed with scissors. The measure would require such clinics to meet the same safety standards as outpatient surgery centers, making them subject to stricter inspections and operating regulations.
Supporters such as the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Family Council say the measure would help protect the health and welfare of women. Opponents such as the American Civil Liberties Union say it would require clinics to make expensive changes to their staff and buildings that could force many or all of them to close. The ACLU says state law already provides guidelines on equipment, staff, emergency transfers to hospitals, counseling and reporting
by abortion clinics.
Although a grand jury report on physician Kermit Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic questioned why such clinics are not regulated like other ambulatory surgical centers, Williams said the bill “goes beyond the scope” of the report.
“The intent of the grand jury's recommendation was to assume that women who seek the services of an abortion provider are afforded the same protections as those who go to other medical providers,” Williams wrote. He said the grand jury did not recommend that lawmakers include all abortion clinics “nor did it
recommend that abortion clinics be singled out for licensure ... simply because they offer abortions.”
Rep. Matt Baker, R- Bradford, chairman of the House Health Committee and the bill's sponsor, said he did not understand why Williams wrote the letter “and who influenced him.”
“It's almost as if he's trying to defend, on the one hand, his grand jury report. Then on the other hand, he's raising all kinds of questions that contradict his own grand jury's recommendations,” Baker told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In January, Gosnell was charged with killing seven babies born alive and with the 2009 death of a woman after a botched abortion at his clinic, which prosecutors called a drug mill by day and an abortion mill by night. Prosecutors, who described the clinic as “a house of horrors,'' said hundreds more babies died there. Gosnell has said he does not understand why he was being charged with eight counts of murder.
The bill faces a preliminary House vote Monday and could be up for final passage Tuesday. It would go to the Senate, where similar bills are pending.
Maggie Leigh Groff, vice president of the southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of Planned Parenthood, said the measure could regulate many safety-conscious clinics out of business with costly new fire, safety and staffing regulations.
“The grand jurors wanted to deal with ways to prevent something as horrible as what happened in the Gosnell clinic,” said Groff. “But I do not believe they wanted impede access to abortion facilities, or in any way support that these facilities close.”