Senate backs snap inspections of abortion clinics

Senate backs snap inspections of abortion clinics

Senate backs snap inspections of abortion clinics

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by Bob Christie, Associated Press

azfamily.com

Posted on April 9, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 9 at 4:35 PM

PHOENIX (AP) -- A bill allowing surprise inspections of abortion clinics without a search warrant was approved on Wednesday by the Arizona Senate.

House Bill 2284 was previously passed by the House, meaning it will now go to Gov. Jan Brewer for consideration.

The Senate approved the bill 17-13 along party lines.

Litigation is likely if the bill eventually becomes law because the warrant requirement is part of a 2010 lawsuit settlement.

Majority Republicans said the change is needed to ensure that abortion clinics can be inspected without delays.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said abortion clinics are the only health care institutions in the state that are not subject to unannounced inspections.

"Allowing the situation to continue does not protect the public and must be addressed," she said.

Democrats countered that removing the warrant requirement would open clinics to harassment by unfriendly regulators and could subject the state to even more lawsuits over its abortion rules. Democrats also say the bill is unnecessary, since only one warrant has been issued in the past four years.

"This bill is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem," said Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. "The supporters of this bill have indicated that the abortion clinics are under no regulations at all or that they are very loosely regulated or that there's problems with the regulation of abortion clinics, and that is simply not true."

The warrant requirement was put in place as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed over a 2004 state law. The deal came after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that snap inspections at the clinics are illegal because women's privacy rights are at risk.

The one warrant sought since then by the state Department of Health Services came just two months ago, days before HB 2284 had its first hearing.

Planned Parenthood of Arizona has questioned the timing of the warrant, which was based on its own report of a surgical complication a year ago.

The health services agency denies there is any link between the legislation and the search. An initial report found issues with some staff licenses and patient care, but Planned Parenthood says they have either provided the needed paperwork or dispute the findings.

The search warrant bill is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group that wrote a now-vetoed religious freedom bill that angered gays, civil rights proponents and the business community.

President Cathi Herrod has said the bill involving abortion clinics is needed to protect women from rogue doctors such as Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician found guilty last year of murder in the deaths of three babies that prosecutors said were delivered alive and killed.

Her group's effort drew criticism from Democrats during a floor debate Wednesday.

"This bill simply opens the door for abuse and does nothing to keep women safe - in fact it's just another harassment tool supporters are pushing to force a lawsuit," said Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson.

But anti-abortion Republicans tend to support any restrictions.

"This bill I see as a pro-life bill, and I support this because I will support any bill that is a pro-life bill," said Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa.

Republicans who control the Legislature have passed a series of laws targeting abortion in recent years, and Brewer has signed them all.

However, bans on Medicaid money for Planned Parenthood non-abortion services and on abortions after 20 weeks have been blocked by federal courts. And new rules that limit the use of the most common abortion drug are on hold after a 9th Circuit panel temporarily blocked the regulations, saying women likely would suffer irreparable harm if the rules take effect.

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