SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Some Illinois lawmakers are seeking to require annual inspections for all the state’s abortion clinics, more than three years after officials took steps to reinforce the system following a report by The Associated Press that some facilities had gone 15 years without an inspection.
The six Republicans and one Democrat who have introduced a bill requiring the annual inspections say it would keep women safer, but critics allege it is a veiled effort to restrict women’s access to the procedure. State officials say they now carry out inspections of most clinics every three or four years, which they insist is enough.
In February, the Republican-led Missouri House passed a similar bill, which would require an annual check of surgical centers that perform a certain number or type of abortions. But the chances of passage appear slimmer in Illinois, where Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he wants to steer clear of social issues while focusing on the state budget crisis.
Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, said her office is not currently monitoring the bill.
Abortion rights advocates say the measure being pushed in the General Assembly would make it more difficult for smaller clinics to continue operations, possibly even forcing some to shut down, as has happened in other states. They say annual inspections would be a burden on clinics that are already licensed.
“The point of the bill is to not shut down any clinics,” said Emily Zender, executive director of Illinois Right to Life Committee, a nonprofit anti-abortion organization that helped craft the bill. The point, she said, is to have regular inspections that “ensure the health and safety of the women” who use the clinics.
In addition to requiring annual inspections, the measure seeks to expand the number of clinics subject to them. Currently, the state regulates two types: “pregnancy termination specialty centers,” which are limited to first-trimester abortions, and ambulatory surgical treatment centers, which do a number of other procedures. The bill would add a third type, those operated by groups like Planned Parenthood, which are not licensed or inspected by the state, but rather treated like doctor’s offices.
The legislation is sponsored by six Republicans, including the chief sponsor, Rep. Sheri Jesiel of Winthrop Harbor, and one Democrat, Rep. Jerry Costello of Smithton.
Regulators began checking more frequently after 2010, following a scandal in which authorities in Philadelphia shut down a “house of horrors” abortion clinic where late-term abortions were performed by untrained staff. The lead clinic doctor was convicted of murder stemming from abortions where newborns had their spinal cords severed with scissors after being born alive.
A review by The Associated Press later found some Illinois facilities had gone up to 15 years without an inspection until then. Two Illinois clinics closed because of health code violations when the inspections were stepped it.
Abortion rights advocates contend that Illinois clinics are safe and don’t need more inspections. They say the legislation would prevent private-practice doctors and clinics like those of Planned Parenthood from performing abortions if their facilities don’t meet existing criteria for a state license.
Currently, the state licenses only those facilities where 50 percent or more of their procedures are surgical. Many abortion clinics perform surgery more infrequently.
Margaret Vanduyn, executive director of the National Health Care clinic that offers abortion services in Peoria, said an annual inspection would be unnecessary. The state sends inspectors “every couple of years,” she said, but most of the problems they have found involved paperwork and, in one case, an outdated certification on equipment. Vanduyn said she believed the proposal to increase inspections was “politically motivated.”
Officials with Planned Parenthood, which operates 18 clinics in Illinois, the most of any single abortion provider, referred all questions about the issue to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Colleen Connell, the state ACLU’s executive director, said the proposal seeks “regulation that advances no medical purpose.”
“If there was a safety issue, I’d think we’d be hearing from doctors, physicians and hospitals,” said Rep. Ann Williams, a House Democrat who opposes the bill. “This is coming from a group of people with an agenda.”
Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, says the state aims to check licensed abortion clinics about every three to four years, or if there is a complaint.
The bill is HB3274.
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