On Wednesday, North Carolina’s health department suspended the license of an Asheville-area abortion clinic after a routine inspection uncovered several safety violations. Clinic employees plan to correct the infractions — which will require them to make changes like updating their procedure for administering anesthesia — and re-open.
Just three days ago, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) approved a measure that will hold the state’s clinics to harsh new regulations. Women’s health advocates point out that the recent clinic suspension, which was carried out under the health department’s current protocol, proves that those new standards aren’t actually necessary at all.
The Asheville clinic in question, FemCare, is currently the only clinic in the state that meets the standards of an ambulatory surgical center. Last month, when Republicans in North Carolina began pushing for new abortion clinic restrictions, their original legislation would have required all of the other abortion clinics in the state to make updates so they could be classified as surgical centers, too.
That’s a popular line of attack against abortion providers. State lawmakers often pass burdensome laws requiring every clinic to be a surgical center, claiming that will help protect their patients’ health and safety. But in order to update their facilities to classify as surgical centers, abortion clinics typically have to make unnecessary, expensive renovations like widening their hallways, updating their air filtration systems, or enlarging their closets. Drexdal Pratt, the director of North Carolina’s Division of Health Service Regulation, has acknowledged that it costs about $1 million more to build an ambulatory surgical center than it does to build an abortion clinic.
GOP lawmakers ended up softening that language after McCrory threatened to veto the harsh bill. But they still managed to pass new, slightly amended abortion restrictions that the governor approved this week. Under the new regulations, North Carolina’s health department will be required to update their safety standards for abortion clinics — and women’s health advocates warn that state health officials could end up deciding to impose the stringent surgical center standards anyway.
So what does that all mean? Essentially, the health department’s existing standards for abortion clinics are already sufficient enough to catch the kind of safety violations that FemCare needs to fix. “I think this is continued evidence that the regulations we already have in place are working,” Melissa Reed, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood, pointed out. “It is absolutely critical that every single clinic meet current regulations, and that any violations are met in a direct and speedy manner.”
Harsh new restrictions on abortion providers, on the other hand, threaten to shutter the rest of the legal abortion clinics in the state for no good reason. That’s because whether a clinic is technically defined as a “surgical center” has nothing to do with the quality of the abortion care that it is providing. And that’s why medical professionals, including the nation’s leading group of OB-GYNs, are opposed to these type of state laws. Doctors’ groups in North Carolina came out against the new clinic rules last month, warning they would “severely restrict access to necessary women’s health care and related lawful medical services” without actually being based on “scientific evidence.”
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina agreed that the suspension signals that the current regulations in the state are sufficient. Although FemCare’s suspension is not related to the new restrictions that McCrory approved on Monday, the group suggested that it does seem to be situated within the context of a broader crack-down on abortion providers in the state. “Some have suggested that timing of the citations is suspicious and politically motivated. It certainly deserves further inquiry,” the executive director of the state’s NARAL chapter, Suzanne Buckley, said in a statement.
Despite North Carolina’s current attack on abortion clinics, providers in the state have vowed to stay open. North Carolina’s Planned Parenthood has promised to do whatever it takes to continue operating, even if that involves raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for unnecessary renovations.