Pennsylvania abortion clinics get reprieve from law

State's 22 providers given six months to comply with Act 122

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Abortion clinics across the state have asked for and received a six-month reprieve from the Department of Health from complying with a tough new law that goes into effect today that they meet the same standards as free-standing ambulatory centers.

The state's 22 abortion providers -- some nonprofit, some for-profit centers and others based in hospitals -- were told Friday by department officials that they would receive provisional licenses, allowing them to remain open while working to come into compliance with Act 122, which was enacted by the state Legislature in the wake of abuses uncovered at a Philadelphia abortion clinic two years ago.

While there had been predictions of mass closings, only one abortion provider appears to be a casualty of the new law.

A small physician's practice operating at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC closed Friday, according to Department of Health spokeswoman Christina Cronkite. Two other physicians' practices at the hospital are still operating, she said. Officials at UPMC could not be reached for comment.

Many clinic providers objected to the law, saying the rules were medically unnecessary and would require renovations so expensive that it would have put most clinics out of business.

That hasn't happened yet.

"Planned Parenthood Western Pennsylvania's doors are open today and they will be open tomorrow," said Kimberlee Evert of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, which operates a clinic in the city and six family planning centers in the region. "Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our patients. Even in the face of burdensome, medically unnecessary regulations, we will do what it takes to be there for the women counting on us."

She declined to provide specifics but noted that she and other clinics across the state were working with the Department of Health "throughout the licensure process. As high quality health care providers trusted by Pennsylvania women for decades, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania is confident we will become a permanently licensed provider."

The new law was enacted after Philadelphia abortion clinic provider Kermit Gosnell was indicted for eight murders. According to the grand jury report, one patient died in 2009 at Dr. Gosnell's clinic from over-sedation caused, in part, by narrow hallways and doorways in the clinic that complicated efforts by paramedics to save her life.

Under the law's new requirements, clinics would be required to expand their operating rooms and parking lots, install washable ceilings, sprinkler systems in every room and hospital-grade elevators and equip driveways for ambulances, at a cost that would bankrupt most of them. No clinic has been forced to make major renovations yet, said Suellen Craig, of Planned Parenthood of Central Pennsylvania.

Maria Gallagher, of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said her organization had no objection to the provisional licenses.

"We are pleased with the progress being made in making [abortion clinics] accountable," she said, noting that the department will begin more frequent inspections under the new law. "They're being held to a stricter scrutiny, and it's a good first step, and we'll be watching the situation very closely."

electionspa - state

Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949. First Published June 19, 2012 12:00 AM


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