Journalist Steve Lopez once wrote that Philadelphia is a city without pretense in a state without shame—and that was long before Harrisburg legislators stooped low enough to exploit murdered babies to push a bill into law that would result in what critics call a “back-door ban” on abortion in Pennsylvania.
The bill: SB 732, scheduled to hit the House floor since September, will force most, if not all, of the 20 freestanding abortion clinics in Pennsylvania to shut down if it passes without significant revision.
“Senate Bill 732 would simply hold abortion facilities to the same standards and regulations as all other health-care facilities that perform surgeries in Pennsylvania,” wrote Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford and Tioga counties), who serves as chairman of the House Health Committee, in a statement released last month. Baker is championing the bill in the House. “Our mothers, daughters and sisters deserve at least that much.”
Baker claims the bill is about medicine. But really, it’s about morality.
SB 732 requires that clinics renovate their buildings to adhere to the architectural codes and staffing requirements of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF).
These guidelines include renovations that are prohibitively expensive and/or logistically impossible, such as: doubling the square footage of procedure rooms and upgrading to hospital-style elevators.
In addition, new staffing requirements would require an RN in the room any time a patient is present. Most abortion clinics perform abortions one day a week; under new guidelines, clinics would need to pay an RN to be present for family planning services and routine gynecological care.
Pennsylvanians for Choice—a statewide nonprofit coalition of reproductive rights advocates—has concluded that if SB 732 passes, “most, if not all, of the 20 nonhospital-based clinics in Pennsylvania would either have to move or discontinue offering surgical abortion services altogether.”
Tellingly, SB 732 at one point included an amendment that called for a fiscal impact study to determine if it would indeed close clinics in Pennsylvania; the study was hacked out of the bill.
To distract from the real issues, Baker’s rhetoric centers provocatively on murder. “This is about patient safety and preventing future cases of murder and infanticide within abortion clinics,” he wrote.
But architectural renovations at 3801 Lancaster Ave. would not have prevented Gosnell. He didn’t avoid detection because of a lack of laws—homicide, third-trimester abortion and drug trafficking are already illegal. He avoided detection because, as Gov. Corbett wrote in a statement released in the wake of his arrest, the Department of Health and Department of State weren’t doing their jobs. They weren’t applying laws and regulations already on the books .
“This doesn’t even rise to the level of government run amok,” wrote Corbett in a statement in response to the grand jury report. “It was government not running at all.”
Meanwhile, abortion is already a remarkably safe procedure. According to the Department of Health, physicians reported 47 instances of complication out 37,284 abortions performed in 2009—about .1 percent.
SB 732 isn’t about patient safety at all. Critics point out that not one medical association supports it. In a letter of opposition, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote that they “disagree vehemently” with the bill. “These additional requirements do nothing to increase patient safety ... and will serve only to diminish access to quality health care for women of the Commonwealth.”
More telling is the organizations that do support it: the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. The Catholic Conference calls SB 732 a “significant pro-life proposal.” In a brief about SB 732 on its website, the Family Institute repeats that its mission is to “strengthen families by restoring to public life the traditional, foundational principles and values.”
At least these organizations are straightforward.
Not only is Baker’s rhetoric misleading about the content and expected outcome of SB 732, he’s disingenuous when he points to the Gosnell case as inspiration: The idea of mandating that clinics upgrade to ASF guidelines as a tactic to restrict women’s access to abortion was conceived years before the Gosnell tragedy. It’s ripped, quite literally, from the anti-choice playbook.
In a memo written in August 2007 and obtained by PW, prominent lawyer James Bopp Jr., counsel to National Right to Life since 1978, and Thomas Marzen, a deceased lawyer also well-known in the anti-choice movement, mandated ASF upgrades are listed in bullet points as ways to “advance … pro-life causes.”
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia physician charged with murdering babies for decades, worked uninterrupted in a wide-open darkness of institutional failure. And a year-long investigation reveals how he got away with it for so long.
A timeline of events in the case against Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
Letters to the Editor