Abortion clinic regulation vote delayed by Senate committee

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The doors of the Alabama State House.

The Senate Health Committee Wednesday delayed a vote on a bill that would impose new requirements on abortion clinics after about an hour of public hearings.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Pelham, would require physicians at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals; would require them to be built up to ambulatory clinic standards and would make it a felony for anyone but a physician to dispense abortion-inducing drugs.

Supporters claim the measures will ensure safety at the five facilities in the state where abortions are performed. McClurkin called the legislation a “women’s safety” bill, and proponents, all of whom were pro-life, said they were not attempting to shut down the state’s five abortion clinics.

“This bill is not about stopping abortion,” said Eric Johnston of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition. “It’s about making abortion safe.”

Cheryl Ciamarra of Alabama Citizens for Life said abortion clinics made enough money to pay for improvements required under the bill.

“We’ve heard this is going to shut abortion clinics down,” she said. “It will only shut down clinics who refuse to comply.”

Opponents note that deaths from abortion-related complications are rare — only 12 women in the United States died from complications from the procedure in 2009, in a year when 784,507 abortions were performed — and say the real purpose of the legislation is to close Alabama’s abortion clinics. June Ayres, director of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, which performs abortions, said the bill was based on “a plate of false premises.”

“Requiring all physicians to have admitting privileges would shut down the facility because not all physicians would be able to obtain admitting privileges,” she said.

Gloria Gray, director and owner of the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, which also performs abortions, said her clinic would have to widen its hallways and also require beds for gurneys to be present — changes that were not needed, she said, because patients at the facility were not heavily sedated.

“We don’t ever put patients in gurneys,” she said. “We don’t ever put patients in wheelchairs unless they’re handicapped.”

A survey of deficiency reports conducted by the Advertiser found that the vast majority of citations were for relatively minor issues, such as missing paperwork or mislabeled bottles. Patients were only reported to have suffered harm in two instances in 60 deficiency reports filed since 1999; no patient deaths were reported.

The legislation passed the House last week on a 73 to 23 vote.

Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, the chairman of the committee, said he wanted to give time to address issues brought up during the hearing. The chairman said he planned to have a vote on the bill next Wednesday.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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