By Nicole Houck, Contributing Writer
Civil liberties and abortion rights advocates are criticizing a bill introduced by State Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga) that increases rules for abortion clinics. They argue that the measure is a thinly veiled attempt at restricting abortions, saying a similar bill in Texas forced 18 of 20 clinics to close.
Proponents of the legislation and pro-life activists argue that HB 574 is necessary to close gaps in abortion regulation, brought to light in the now infamous case of abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Baker’s would require freestanding abortion clinics to follow the same standards as ambulatory surgical facilities, including increasing the size of procedure rooms and mandating the presence a full time RN during procedures.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania issued a press release, and took the time to post a video campaign to raise awareness about the legislation via Facebook.
“It is absolutely clear that House Bill 574 is an attempt to put providers out of business. It is not about patient safety,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
It “would effectively close most and maybe all of the independent abortion clinics in Pennsylvania. The requirements of this House bill will cost abortion providers hundreds of thousands of dollars in building renovations and staff increases. If HB 574 becomes law,” Hoover added, “women will still seek abortion care, but with reputable clinics closed, the chances increase that women will seek abortions from doctors like Gosnell.”
Sari Stevens, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates expressed her strong discontent with HB 574 in the interview with Hoover from ACLU-PA.
“Texas in particular had a similar bill pass, and 18 of the 20 providers immediately went out of business and never returned to practice,” said Stevens.
That’s a gross mischaracterization, said Rep. Baker in an interview with PoliticsPA. He emphasized that the bill was a response to the grand jury papers on Dr. Gosnell, and not in any way an attempt to close clinics.
“Why do they feel that they should not have to undergo the same patient health safety standards as other facilities, this just defies logic. People go in to have anesthesia and surgical abortions and you’re saying there shouldn’t even be a nurse? It doesn’t make sense. And most reasonable thinking people whether they be pro-life or pro-choice or in the middle seem to agree with that,” said Baker.
“That just shows how out of touch, and unrealistic and uncaring, quite frankly, that they are towards the very women that they seem to be saying would be hurt by this legislation,” said Baker. “I would say that they’re hurting women physically as evident by the atrocities witnessed at the Gosnell abortion clinic.”
Pro-life activists echoed the Gosnell theme.
“HB 574 is a direct and timely response to the recommendations of the Grand Jury Report which investigated the Gosnell tragedy,” said Charlene Bashore, Legislative /Political Director of the PA Pro-Life Federation in response to the ACLU-PA/Planned Parenthood video.
“I have no firsthand knowledge of which freestanding abortion clinics in Pennsylvania would or would not qualify as ambulatory surgical centers currently. In the Grand Jury report, however, (p. 162) it was stated: ‘[t]he legitimate abortion providers who testified before the Grand Jury told us that they already comply with standards as demanding as those for ASFs (ambulatory surgical centers). Abortion rights advocates told us the same thing-that licensing abortion clinics as ASFs would not be burdensome because clinics that are members of NAF, or associated with Planned Parenthood, already comply with the highest standards of care,’” said Bashore.
“It is difficult to understand why there is now such vitriolic opposition to HB 574. Since I have no reason to doubt the truthfulness of the statements made in the Grand Jury Report, I can only surmise that they are now advocating for entities other than those which were described as “the legitimate abortion providers.”
The debate underscores just how difficult political climate abortion rights supporters find themselves in. On top of all the limits they face in a Republican-controlled state legislature, the session began with the story of Dr. Gosnell and a grand jury report detailing the most horrific abortion-related crimes in recent memory.
And they get it. In the same release, Hoover threw his support behind a few bills in the PA Senate. These bills are similar in theme, but more limited in scope, and largely avoid requiring changes to the physical facilities of clinics.
The PA Senate is considering a variety of related bills (including SB642, SB732, SB660, and SB662) introduced by State Sens. Jake Corman, Patricia Vance and Vincent Hughes.
“Everyone agrees that patient safety is the endgame for this legislation,” said Hoover. “I think the Senate is taking a much more deliberative approach. They held a public hearing today and they heard both sides, so we’re hopeful that will lead to decent legislation coming out of the Senate.”
“The Senate bills need to include protections of patient privacy that those bills currently lack, but no clinics will close if any of the Senate bills pass.”
Keegan Gibson contributed to this report.