The grand jury report on Kermit Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia carefully details the shocking negligence of many people. From those responsible for regulating health under two administrations to outside certifying agencies, many people knew something was wrong in West Philly and they did little or nothing. Here is a passage (pp.148-149) from the grand jury report that finds a change in policy regarding abortion clinics when Governor Tom Ridge took over from Bob Casey. In essence, the change in regulatory posture was justified by the belief that such negligence would make abortions more accessible.
Since February 2010, Department of Health officials have reinstituted regular inspections of abortion clinics – finding authority in the same statute they used earlier to justify not inspecting.
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.”Brody testified that he did not consider the “access issue” a legal one. The Abortion Control Act, he told the Grand Jurors, charges DOH with protecting the health and safety of women having abortions and premature infants aborted alive. To carry out this responsibility, he said, DOH should regularly inspect the facilities.
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.” Now, once again, the regulations, which have never been modified, apparently allow for regular inspections. This is, and always was, the correct position. The state legislature gave DOH the duty to enforce its regulations; the authority and power to do so are implicit in that duty. The department abandoned this responsibility without explanation, and without notice to the public or the legislature.
This is a scandal which requires an investigation. The legislature in PA developed statutes which required clinics to be investigated and the law was not followed. The new chief executive in PA, Tom Corbett, is reportedly upset about this case. I hope he turns his upsetness into action.
I should also mention that I have contacted the DOH’s chief counsel in PA for comment but have not had a reply.