Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fear of less access to abortion clinics led to no inspections

Pages 147-149 of the Grand Jury Report on abortion Kermit Gosnell gets to the heart of why his clinic wasn't inspected by authorities.
Staloski blamed the decision to abandon supposedly annual inspections of abortion clinics on DOH lawyers, who, she said, changed their legal opinions and advice to suit the policy preferences of different governors. Under Governor Robert Casey, she said, the department inspected abortion facilities annually. Yet, when Governor Tom Ridge came in, the attorneys interpreted the same regulations that had permitted annual inspections for years to no longer authorize those inspections. Then, only complaint driven inspections supposedly were authorized. Staloski said that DOH’s policy during Governor Ridge’s administration was motivated by a desire not to be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions.

Brody confirmed some of what Staloski told the Grand Jury. He described a meeting of high-level government officials in 1999 at which a decision was made not to accept a recommendation to reinstitute regular inspections of abortion clinics. The reasoning, as Brody recalled, was: “there was a concern that if they did routine inspections, that they may find a lot of these facilities didn’t meet [the standards for getting patients out by stretcher or wheelchair in an emergency], and then there would be less abortion facilities, less access to women to have an abortion."

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Nevertheless, the position of DOH remained the same after Edward Rendell became governor. Using the legally faulty excuse that the department lacked the authority to inspect abortion clinics, Staloski left them unmonitored, presumably with the knowledge and blessing of her bosses, Deputy Secretary Stacy Mitchell and a succession of Secretaries of Health. The department continued its do-nothing policy until 2010, when media attention surrounding the raid of the Gosnell clinic exposed the results of years of hands-off “oversight.”

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Moreover, even if Staloski was instructed not to conduct regular, annual inspections, that does not explain why she failed to order inspections when complaints were received. It is clear to us that she was made aware, numerous times, that serious incidents had occurred at Gosnell’s clinic. These incidents, which evidenced alarming as well as illegal long-standing patterns of behavior, warranted investigation. Yet, in all the years she worked at the department, Staloski never ordered even one inspection.

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