What did Planned Parenthood affiliates call “a public health crisis” that would “ultimately put a majority of abortion care facilities out of business in Pennsylvania”? It was the same action at the heart of the Texas law now before the U.S. Supreme Court—making surgical abortion businesses follow the same inspection and safety regulations as every other surgical facility in the state.
Pennsylvania’s Act 122 went into effect in June 2012, classifying any clinic performing abortion surgery as an ambulatory surgical facility. This brought abortion facilities up to the same health and safety requirements as every other freestanding outpatient surgical center. These common-sense requirements include hallways big enough for a gurney, proper sterilization procedures, and unannounced inspections. Basic medical safety standards like these are an example of government actually keeping people safe.
As a direct result, that year five of the 24 Pennsylvania abortion facilities shut down. In the nearly four years since, there are four main impacts the law has made on Pennsylvania.
1. Inspections that Prevent a Kermit Gosnell Repeat
Inspection of abortion facilities happens regularly and will continue, preventing another Kermit Gosnell. The Philadelphia grand jury that indicted Gosnell found that top state officials decided decades ago to stop inspecting abortion facilities for political reasons. This failure allowed Gosnell to operate a horrific late-term abortion facility in West Philadelphia where tens of thousands of abortions occurred, and where at least two women were killed.
Gosnell is sadly not the only reason inspections are necessary. Just last August, the two largest abortion locations for Planned Parenthood in Pennsylvania failed inspection. Inspectors found the remains of aborted babies simply thrown into bags and stored in an open closet. Surgical instruments were not properly sterilized, and syringes and needles were being stored outside of packaging. Only after inspection have those safety issues been addressed.
Because abortion facilities are now included in ambulatory surgical standards, no governor or other state official can simply decree an end to inspections.
2. Treating Women Like All Humans in Surgery
The abortion business is now held to the standard of care given to all surgical procedures, which stops someone like Steven Brigham. As a direct result of the new abortion facilities law, five surgical abortion locations closed. Three closed voluntarily, but the other two were closed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The two forced to close were Allentown Medical Services and American Women’s Services, both connected to the infamous late-term abortionist Steven Brigham, whose medical license has been suspended or revoked in at least five states, including Pennsylvania.
After losing his medical license, Brigham continued to own several Pennsylvania clinics. An OB-GYN from the hospital near Brigham’s Allentown clinic would see major injuries to women as a result of their procedures: “I was scared for the patients.”
Former employees describe how women were in agony during their abortions, “screaming and writhing….it sounded like people being tortured.” In one raid of a Brigham clinic in New York, officials found 17 aborted babies in a freezer. Another raid in Maryland found 35 late-term aborted babies stored in a freezer. One was suspected to have been aborted at 36 weeks.
In December 2011, ironically at same time Pennsylvania’s abortion clinic legislation passed, a Maryland grand jury investigating Brigham charged him with 11 counts of murder. Brigham was starting late-term abortion procedures on women in New Jersey, then transporting them to Maryland to finish the job. The charges were only dropped because the prosecution could not establish the facts determining the aborted babies were post-viability—similar to the defense Gosnell unsuccessfully attempted to mount in Pennsylvania.
Although the Pennsylvania Department of Health banned Brigham in 2009 from being directly or indirectly involved with medical facilities, he kept his Pennsylvania business interests in the family, transferring ownership of his Pittsburgh and Allentown clinics to his mother.
Only in 2012 did the state force both of these facilities to close. Brigham reportedly spoke glowingly of these facilities after their closure. The PA Department of Health had a different view, sending a letter to Brigham saying they had “witnessed a chronic inability by Allentown Women Services to comply with the most fundamental statutory and regulatory requirements.” Yet it was only after the law was passed for ambulatory surgical standards on abortion clinics that Brigham’s clinics were shut down.
If Pennsylvania did not pass this law, both of these facilities connected with Brigham would still be butchering women. Many have pointed to Kermit Gosnell as the reason for abortion facility improvements. While that is enough reason, Gosnell is in jail now. People like Steven Brigham are still out there operating clinics—but no longer in Pennsylvania, thanks to the improved regulation.
3. Standardized Emergency Plans for Abortion Complications
A standardized emergency plan is now in place for when complications arise from an abortion. In 2014, physicians submitted 162 reports of complications from abortion in Pennsylvania. These consisted of “retained products of conception,” bleeding, and infection. When there is an emergency, the same protocol for any freestanding surgical facility now applies to abortion locations.
Karnamaya Mongar died in a hospital as a result of a botched abortion in Gosnell’s clinic. It took paramedics over 20 minutes just to get Mongar out of the facility because the hallways were too narrow for a stretcher and the emergency door was padlocked. Ambulatory surgical facility standards and unannounced inspections are the best way to safeguard the health and safety of women in Pennsylvania and across the country.
4. This Doesn’t Reduce Abortion Access
Access to abortion has not been hindered due to the improved standards. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Pennsylvania continue to denounce the need for ambulatory surgical standards for abortion facilities, calling it “onerous,” “burdensome,” and “unnecessary” while claiming it would shut down the majority of abortion facilities.
In 2010, 22 non-hospital facilities performed abortions. That same year included abortions from Gosnell’s facility and the two clinics linked with Steven Brigham. Take away those, and you have 19 non-hospital facilities. In 2014, the number of non-hospital facilities performing abortions was 19.
Total state abortions have not dropped dramatically, either. There were 36,778 abortions in Pennsylvania for 2010. Four years later, abortions were down just 13 percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 2010 to 2012, the abortion rate nationally has dropped by 9 percent. Is this the “public health crisis” that Planned Parenthood warned would shut down abortion?
Women Deserve the Best Health Standards
Texas is on the verge of becoming what Pennsylvania was to the nation back in the 1990s—monumental in shaping state regulation of abortion. In the state passage of the Abortion Control Act and the resulting U.S. Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Pennsylvania helped pave the way for improvements in state abortion laws, such as 24-hour waiting periods, informed consent, and parental permission requirements for minors seeking an abortion.
In their Casey decision, the Supreme Court wrote, “the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman.” There is absolutely a legitimate interest in making abortion clinics fulfill the same health and safety requirements of any outpatient surgical facility. And Pennsylvania women are now safer because of it.