Arizona Just Authorized Surprise Inspections At Abortion Clinics

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) approved a measure on Tuesday evening that will allow the state to conduct surprise inspections of abortion facilities without first obtaining a warrant. The new law is almost certain to provoke a lawsuit, since a federal appeals court has previously maintained that Arizona needs to get a warrant before searching abortion clinics.

The governor did not issue any statement regarding her approval of House Bill 2284, but a spokesperson for her office explained that “this legislation will ensure that the Arizona Department of Health Services has the authority to appropriately protect the health and safety of all patients.”

Reproductive rights groups, on the other hand, say this is just another method of allowing harassment against abortion providers. They point out that the anti-choice community successfully uses the regulatory system as a cudgel — enacting dozens of unnecessary restrictions on abortion care, triggering state inspections of clinics, drowning clinic employees in paperwork, and ultimately forcing providers out of business.

“We’re not surprised that Governor Brewer signed this bill,” Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, said in a statement. “She has been hostile to women’s health care, including abortion and family planning, since the day she took office.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, ten other states also allow surprise clinic inspections. This policy fits into a larger strategy to limit access to reproductive health clinics. Although these tactics are typically framed in terms of “women’s safety,” they’re actually intended to make it too difficult to provide abortion care. In fact, abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures in the country, and the clinics that perform these procedures are already highly regulated.

HB 2284 was spearheaded by the right-wing group Center for Arizona Policy, the same group that was behind the state’s controversial “right to discriminate” measure earlier this year. The legislature took up HB 2284 just one day after Brewer vetoed the anti-LGBT bill.

Four years ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that snap inspections at abortion clinics put women’s privacy at risk, and overruled a similar measure that Arizona enacted back in 1999. But the Center for American Policy maintains that this time will be different. Now that Arizona has enacted some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, the group hopes that the court won’t see surprise clinic inspections as such a threat to reproductive rights.

The state’s Democratic lawmakers see through that strategy. “This bill simply opens the door for abuse and does nothing to keep women safe,” Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford (D) pointed out during last week’s debate on the Senate floor. “In fact, it’s just another harassment tool the supporters are pushing to force a lawsuit.”