- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - An anti-abortion group has formally asked the Health Services Department to use new powers to search abortion clinics without a warrant to investigate Planned Parenthood of Arizona.

Alliance Defending Freedom sent a formal complaint to Health Services Director Will Humble on Thursday asking him to investigate after a counselor at a Tempe clinic allegedly failed to report that a teen girl’s pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault. Humble says he’s reviewing the letter.

The Arizona Attorney General’s office is already looking into the allegation.

The allegation is contained in police reports against an 18-year-old San Tan Valley man charged with sexually assaulting several underage girls.

“Planned Parenthood’s main concern should be the safety of young girls, not the size of its profit margin,” ADF attorney Natalie Decker said in a statement. “Sadly, this is not an exception, and Planned Parenthood is abusing more than just taxpayer dollars.”

Planned Parenthood of Arizona issued a statement saying it reached out to Pinal County sheriff’s officials when it learned of the allegations, takes them seriously and will cooperate with any investigation.

The Planned Parenthood statement said it takes its role as a mandatory reporter of criminal activity seriously and follows all laws and reports to authorities when required. “We have a zero tolerance policy for staff who fail to follow this policy, and we regularly train our staff on compliance with this policy,” the statement said.

Humble said Friday that the health department has rewritten its rules to enable warrantless inspections after a law went into effect last month giving it that authority.

“We’re good to go because we planned our rule update to match the statute implementation date,” Humble said. “We can do surprise inspections and complaint investigations without needing an administrative search warrant today.”

A regular inspection for a general review previously required a 10-day notice, and a complaint investigation required a warrant, Humble said. Both requirements were changed with the enactment of House Bill 2284. A complaint investigation would allow the agency to review specific patient case files.

Federal courts have ruled that snap inspections at the state’s abortion clinics are not legal because women’s privacy rights are particularly at risk, and Planned Parenthood has said a lawsuit is likely to block the new law. A 2010 agreement that settled a federal lawsuit brought by Arizona abortion providers over an earlier effort to allow surprise inspections required the warrants.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys joined the Arizona Life Coalition last month in urging state prosecutors to investigate the case and for the health department to also launch an investigation. Thursday’s formal complaint followed up on that request.

The allegations stem from a sexual assault indictment of Tyler Kost, who is charged with sexually assaulting about a dozen girls. A judge last month ordered that he remain in custody pending trial.

Kost has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday.

According to a police report, the mother of one of Kost’s victims told investigators she took her daughter to Planned Parenthood’s Tempe Clinic in December because she had become pregnant after being assaulted by Kost. The report said the mother told detectives the Planned Parenthood counselor intentionally mislabeled the pregnancy as the result of a consensual encounter, saying they didn’t “want the hassle” of having to report it to authorities. The girl had an abortion in January.

Planned Parenthood is required by law to report sexual assaults. Failing to do so is a felony.

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