Abor­tion fic­tion

Vir­ginia’s in­spec­tions of its 18 clin­ics de­bunk the phony con­cern over safety.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

IT’S BEEN a bad week in Vir­ginia for an­tiabor­tion ac­tivists, who had ar­gued that the state’s abor­tion clin­ics pose such a threat to pa­tients that they should be reg­u­lated like hos­pi­tals — and in most cases shut­tered. The ev­i­dence is in, and they’re wrong.

In a public hear­ing Thurs­day, mem­bers of the Board of Health were pre­sented with the re­sults of the state’s just-com­pleted two-year re­view, dur­ing which each of the com­mon­wealth’s 18 clin­ics were ex­haus­tively scru­ti­nized, in most cases on more than one visit, by state in­spec­tors. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that in­spec­tors de­voted at least 2,000 man­hours to the project.

No ev­i­dence was found of vi­o­la­tions that re­sulted in harm to pa­tients at any of the state’s clin­ics, which per­form an es­ti­mated 25,000 first-trimester abor­tions an­nu­ally. None.

That’s 50,000 abor­tions in two years and not one in­stance of phys­i­cal harm be­falling a pa­tient.

More­over, ac­cord­ing to Erik Bodin, direc­tor of the Depart­ment of Health’s Of­fice of Li­cen­sure and Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the vi­o­la­tions that of­fi­cials did find at the clin­ics were much less se­vere than those iden­ti­fied in the state’s nurs­ing homes. And the fre­quency of vi­o­la­tions, not very high to begin with in 2012, was cut nearly in half in the 2013 to 2015 in­spec­tion pe­riod.

Vir­ginia’s com­plex re­view cov­ered 80 dif­fer­ent in­spec­tion cat­e­gories, any one of which could re­sult in a de­merit on a 12-point scale of sever­ity. In no in­stance did any clinic re­ceive a de­merit in the more se­ri­ous half of that range.

Many of the de­mer­its meted out in­volved ad­min­is­tra­tive short­com­ings: fail­ing to ap­point an act­ing direc­tor while the direc­tor was ab­sent; fail­ing to keep ad­e­quate records on pa­tients; ne­glect­ing to de­velop a self-as­sess­ment pro­gram; not col­lect­ing the proper con­sent forms from one (of three) mi­nor pa­tients whose files were pulled at ran­dom. In one in­stance, a clinic re­ceived a de­merit for fail­ing to en­sure that re­clin­ers in the re­cov­ery area were dis­in­fected be­tween pa­tients.

Af­ter a sec­ond round of in­spec­tions at fa­cil­i­ties is­sued those most se­ri­ous de­mer­its, in­spec­tors found ei­ther no vi­o­la­tions or triv­ial ones at 15 of the state’s 18 clin­ics. At the other three clin­ics, the mid-range vi­o­la­tions were not judged to have caused any phys­i­cal harm.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in Vir­ginia, with a heavy as­sist from for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Ken Cuc­cinelli II, have tried to threaten the clin­ics’ viability by man­dat­ing that they be re­clas­si­fied as hos­pi­tals for the pur­pose of reg­u­la­tion. That would force the clo­sure of 13 of the 18 clin­ics, whose cor­ri­dor widths, park­ing lots, jan­i­to­rial clos­ets and the like do not meet hos­pi­tal stan­dards. Thanks to the in­ter­ces­sion of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), the Board of Health has granted waivers al­low­ing those 13 clin­ics to con­tinue op­er­at­ing while it re­views the reg­u­la­tions.

Law­mak­ers and anti-abor­tion ac­tivists who fa­vor the reg­u­la­tions in­sist they are do­ing noth­ing more than try­ing to pro­tect the health of women. That ar­gu­ment was al­ways trans­par­ent non­sense, and the con­tention that women were en­dan­gered was based on anec­dotes, of­ten from clin­ics out of state, rather than ev­i­dence.

Now that the ev­i­dence is in, the Board of Health should do what it was pre­pared to do three years ago, be­fore Mr. Cuc­cinelli in­ter­vened: ex­empt ex­ist­ing clin­ics from the un­needed re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

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