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Uphold the Texas abortion clinics law

Do the American people, through their elected representatives, have the right to enact commonsense laws to protect women’s health in abortion clinics? That is the issue at stake in the case before the Supreme Court today, the most significant abortion case the high court will hear in more than a decade.

When the bloody curtain was pulled back for all to see and read what Kermit Gosnell had done, America was doubly shocked; they were horrified to learn about a man who had executed babies born alive and seriously endangered women with his back-alley ways, but they were equally appalled to know that he had been operating in plain daylight, with no health inspections in nearly two decades, save one visit from the National Abortion Federation (NAF).

{mosads}How could this happen in America in the 21st Century? This question pressed on the national conscience, and state legislators all over the country set out to make sure that it could never happen again. They took seriously the recommendations of the grand jury that indicted Gosnell, which explicitly stated:

If oversight agencies expect to prevent future Dr. Gosnells, they must find the fortitude to enact and enforce the necessary regulations. Rules must be more than words on paper… abortion clinics should be explicitly regulated as ambulatory surgical facilities, so that they are inspected annually and held to the same standards as all other outpatient procedure centers.

States got to work in doing just that, joining other states that already had regulations requiring that abortion clinics be held to the same reasonable medical standards of other outpatient surgery centers to ensure that women seeking abortion had minimum medical protection.

One such bill was House Bill 2 (HB 2) in Texas. The bill required that a doctor who performs an abortion have admitting privileges, ensuring minimum physician competence, to prevent doctor miscommunication, and to prevent patient abandonment. Or in layman’s terms: If a woman starts to bleed out in the middle of an abortion and must be rushed the emergency room, the abortion doctor better be right by her side explaining with medical competency to E.R. staff what kind of abortion was performed and what went wrong.

The NAF, the very same group that rejected Gosnell’s application for membership after seeing the bloodstained seats and filthy conditions in his clinic, recommends to women seeking an abortion that they use a provider who has admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 20 minutes away. The Texas requirement is even less stringent, requiring privileges within 30 miles.

Other minimum safety measures the bill dealt with ambulatory access, requiring that an ambulance be able to access the clinic and a gurney fit down its hallways in case of an emergency. 

All of Planned Parenthood’s clinics in Texas already meet these requirements, and yet they have fought HB 2 all the way to the Supreme Court. They and other abortion-industry opponents of the law argue that these safety standards have forced too many clinics to close, which in turn requires women seeking an abortion to drive lengthy distances in rural areas.

But their fierce opposition to medical standards that apply to the entire outpatient surgical industry begs the question: Is their alternative to a greater driving distance to offer sub-standard care to poor women who can’t afford better? Is their motivation so blindly ideological that they are willing to put women’s lives at risk over risking more headlines about clinics closing down?

Whatever their motivation, this case offers common ground to pro-choicers and pro-lifers who value women’s safety and health. That abortion is a moral crime against an unborn child is still a fiercely debated political issue in a deeply divided America. But playing politics with women’s health is policy malpractice.

McGuire is a senior fellow with The Catholic Association.


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