Alabama Hearing on New Abortion Center Safety Rules Pleases No One

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 28, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Alabama Hearing on New Abortion Center Safety Rules Pleases No One Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 28
, 2006

Montgomery, AL ( — Neither side in the abortion debate was happy with the newer more stringent rules on abortion businesses the state health department announced during a hearing yesterday. The new rules come after health officials found numerous violations and problems at abortion centers in Birmingham and Montgomery.

Pro-life advocates reacted to the new rules by saying they don’t go far enough and that abortion should be eliminated if the state is serious about protecting women.

Abortion activists said the new health and safety rules would close down abortion centers that put women’s health at risk and would lead to illegal abortions.

The new rules include requiring each abortion facility to have a licensed physician on staff or through a contract who is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and has admitting privileges at a hospital not more than 30 minutes away.

That way a doctor can admit a woman who suffers from a botched abortion to a local hospital for emergency surgery to repair the damage.

Rev. Jack Zylman, a retired Unitarian minister and a member of Alabama Clergy for Choice, told the panel he doesn’t like that idea, according to a Decatur Daily report. He also brought up illegal abortions, saying legal abortions are safer for women even with the numerous problems at the abortion facilities.

"Abortion clinics are there because hospitals have knuckled under to the anti-abortion forces," Zylman said.

Planned Parenthood of Alabama President Larry Rodick said the admitting privileges rule would be difficult for some abortion centers because hospitals rarely want to work with a facility whose sole purposes is to do abortions.

Tamer Middleton, who does abortions in Alabama and Georgia, also testified, according to the Daily. She complained that most doctors in the state don’t know how to do abortions.

But Dr. Matt Phillips, a Montgomery obstetrician/gynecologist, said abortions are medically unnecessary and indicated he doesn’t know of any physician who would not treat someone injured by an abortion.

He said regulations are needed to force abortion centers to disclose the name of the person doing the abortion because they often refuse to provide that information and make it difficult for physicians who provide emergency care following a botched abortion.

According to the Decatur newspaper, Rick Harris, director of the Bureau of Health Provider Standards for the health department, said the department would look into additional rules and regulations in the months ahead.

The hearing came after one abortion business closed down and two were suspended after health officials found violations.

Last week, the Birmingham New Woman All Women Health Care abortion facility agreed to go on probation over several violations found by state health inspectors including tests not being done on women before abortions and the abortion facility’s administrator taking narcotics from the facility for her own personal use.

Some of the violations included patients who were not given medications on time, failing to verify if ultrasound or pregnancy tests had been conducted before abortions, and the administrator’s personal use of the abortion center’s drugs.

The administrator has since been fired and state health inspectors are monitoring the abortion facility’s misuse of the drugs.

The center hadn’t been inspected since July 2004 but State Health Officer Don Williamson said staffing increases have made it so he can begin doing annual inspections of the state’s nine abortion centers.

Earlier this month, Diane Derzis, the director of the New Woman abortion facility, told AP, it had "nothing to hide" from state inspectors.

New Woman isn’t the first abortion business to have health violations as three other Alabama abortion centers have come under fire.

The Summit Medical Center abortion center in Birmingham closed down in July after a nurse illegally gave a woman late in pregnancy the dangerous RU 486 abortion drug. Afterwards, it fabricated its health records in an attempt to cover up what happened.

The woman Summit gave the abortion drug to had a severely high blood pressure and needed medical attention, and later gave birth to a stillborn baby. According to the suspension order obtained, the woman had a "critical and dangerously high" blood pressure reading of 182/129.

Only a doctor is supposed to dispense the dangerous abortion drug and the mifepristone pills are only intended to be used in the early stages of a pregnancy. The woman went to an emergency room six days later and gave birth to a 6-pound, 4-ounce stillborn baby.

The state medical board has also temporarily prohibited abortion practitioner Deborah Lyn Levich and Summit Medical Center nurse Janet F. Onthank King from practicing.

Levich and King have been prohibited from working with each other again after Levich allowed King to dispense the abortion drug.

At Summit, state health officials said they found "egregious lapses in care, including non-physicians performing abortions, severely underestimating the gestational age of a fetus, failure to appropriately refer or treat a patient with a dangerously elevated blood pressure, and performing an abortion on a late-term pregnancy."

Summit Medical Centers operates seven abortion businesses in five states and has another abortion center in Montgomery, Alabama.

It is the abortion business that employed Malachy Dehenre, who lost his medical license in both Alabama and Mississippi because of botched abortions.

Following the incident at Summit, the state began inspecting the state’s other abortion facilities, which led to finding problems at Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery.

The Alabama Department of Health suspended RHS’s license in August saying that the abortion business did not have a backup physician on hand kept inadequate medical records and conducted poor follow-up abortion care.

State health officials postponed a September hearing on the suspension. Because the facility says it is working on making improvements, State Health Department attorney Pat Ivie said the agency decided to postpone a hearing.

Previously, the health department had set up a September 18 hearing on the suspension but Ivie told the Associated Press that the abortion center showed a plan for correcting the abuses.

Ivie indicated RHS must satisfy its requirements and sign a consent agreement to abide by the state health rules before it can reopen.

ACTION: Send your comments about rules for abortion centers to John Wible, P.O. Box 303017, Montgomery, AL 36130-3017.