Thursday, June 30, 2016

Supreme Court decision should put spotlight on Whole Woman's Health

This week's legally outrageous Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt decision has undermined efforts to hold the abortion industry accountable and to safeguard the health of pregnant women. To see the real tragedy of the Supreme Court's ruling, consider the lead plaintiff in the case, whose name will now forever be tied to this appalling decision.

Whole Woman's Health (WWH) is a Texas-based chain of abortion centers that expanded to Minnesota in 2012. WWH is now the second-leading practitioner of abortion in our state (behind only Planned Parenthood).

WWH's track record in Texas shows why the Texas safety provisions struck down by the Court were important—and why WWH was so committed to stopping them. Justice Samuel Alito, during oral arguments back in March, noted that there had been "instance after instance where Whole Woman's facilities have been cited for really appalling violations when they were inspected. Holes in the floor where ­­rats could come in, the lack of any equipment to adequately sterilize instruments." (Alito went on to vigorously dissent from the Court's awful ruling.)

Indeed, WWH has been cited many, many times for health code violations. In 2007, for example, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) fined WWH of Beaumont $3,050 for five different violations.

In 2011, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined WWH of Austin and WWH of McAllen $40,410 for illegally disposing of the remains of aborted children. In 2012, the Texas Medical Board disciplined two WWH abortionists for violating standards of patient care. They were both fined $3,000 and required to take a medical education course.

A 2013 inspection of the Beaumont clinic noted that "the facility failed to provide safe and sanitary equipment in the patients' procedure rooms." Inspectors found "numerous rusty spots on the suction machines used on the patient" that had "the likelihood to cause infection," according to the DSHS report. They also found "expired drugs," unlabeled "pre-filled medication cups," and "a large hole in the cabinet flooring ... [that] had the likelihood to allow rodents to enter the facility." The DSHS concluded: "[T]he facility failed to provide a safe environment for patients and staff."

A 2013 inspection of WWH of San Antonio determined that it "failed to implement and enforce acceptable environmental controls in cleaning and preparing instruments for sterilization." An inspection that same year of WWH of McAllen found that "personnel ... were not following proper sterilization procedures." In 2014 and 2015, inspectors uncovered numerous safety violations at WWH clinics in Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and McAllen.

Year after year, clinic after clinic, WWH never seems to get its act together. This should be especially concerning for Minnesotans. Unlike Texas, our state does not license or inspect abortion facilities at all—we have no way to determine if WWH has imported its shoddy conditions and practices into Minnesota.

Whole Woman's Health and other abortion facilities must be held to a higher standard. Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt has, sadly, made it more difficult to do so.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The problems with the Supreme Court's abortion industry regulations decision

Yesterday, in the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down two abortion-related measures in Texas. One requires that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital in order to ensure continuity of care in the event of complications. The other requires that abortion centers meet the same health and safety standards as other facilities that perform outpatient surgery.

Both of these are reasonable efforts to safeguard the health of women. The Court, in a 5-3 vote, has now ruled them unconstitutional. Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion claims that the two measures improperly impose an "undue burden" on women seeking abortion, a standard for judging abortion-related laws that the Court had previously invented and applied in its 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision.

Dissenting Justice Sam Alito
Justice Samuel Alito, in a dissenting opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, blasts yesterday's decision for violating "settled procedural rules" and for failing (and for hardly even trying) to establish that the Texas provisions actually impose any "undue burden." Alito writes: "The Court's patent refusal to apply well-established law in a neutral way is indefensible and will undermine public confidence in the Court as a fair and neutral arbiter." The majority, in short, went far out of its way to reach the judgment it wanted to reach.

Justice Thomas also offered a separate dissent. While stressing that he remains "fundamentally opposed to the Court's abortion jurisprudence," Thomas notes that "even taking Casey [and its "undue burden" criterion] as the baseline ... the majority [in yesterday's Whole Woman's Health decision] radically rewrites the undue-burden test." The Court, he explains, applies precepts that "are nowhere to be found in Casey or its successors" in order to strike down Texas's provisions. Thomas concludes, quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia, that the decision "exemplifies the Court's troubling tendency 'to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.'"

The fundamental problem is that, beginning with Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Court has been in the business of creating abortion policy (specifically, a policy of abortion-on-demand) and imposing it on the nation—even though there is no constitutional basis for such action. Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt is a clear step in the wrong direction.

Yesterday's decision underscores the necessity of having Supreme Court justices who apply the Constitution as it actually is. Only then will the Court respect the right of the American people, through their elected representatives, to enact laws that protect women and unborn children and that hold the abortion industry accountable.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Supreme Court ruling on abortion facilities poses safety risks for women

The following news release was issued on June 27, 2016.

Women's safety lost out to the abortion industry in today's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a Texas law that applied basic safety standards to abortion facilities. Facility safety requirements and admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in cases of emergency were deemed unnecessary by a majority of the Court, which ruled in favor of an abortion industry that fiercely opposes regulation.

"With this ruling the Supreme Court has sided with the wealthy and powerful abortion industry rather than vulnerable women," said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state's oldest and largest pro-life organization. "An unregulated abortion industry, which performs thousands of invasive surgical procedures every day, is very bad news for women."

Lack of abortion industry oversight has been harmful—and in a few cases, deadly—for women. Dangerous conditions and unscrupulous providers have been exposed at abortion centers in numerous other states. For example, abortionist Kermit Gosnell conducted criminal activity for years at his abortion facility in Philadelphia while the state provided no oversight. He was convicted in 2013 on three counts of murder, another count of manslaughter and 21 felony counts.

In Minnesota, abortion facilities are not even licensed or inspected. The Minnesota Department of Health has no authority to even enter these facilities as it does for other outpatient surgical centers.

"Reasonable regulation serves to hold the abortion industry accountable and ensure a degree of safety for women," said Fischbach. "Today's Court action, which reversed common-sense regulations, is deeply disturbing for everyone who cares about the health and safety of women."