Bill allows snap inspections of abortion clinics

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- A bill to allow surprise inspections at abortion clinics that is being pushed by a powerful anti-abortion group was approved Thursday by an Arizona House panel dominated by Republicans.

The Reform and Human Services Committee approved House Bill 2284 by Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko of Peoria on a 5-3 party-line vote, with Lesko saying abortion clinics are the only medical facility in Arizona that state regulators need a warrant to inspect.

The bill backed by the anti-abortion group Center for Arizona Policy eliminates a requirement that the Department of Health Services obtain an administrative warrant to conduct unscheduled inspections at the state's nine licensed abortion clinics.

The bill is opposed by Democrats and Planned Parenthood of Arizona. Planned Parenthood President Bryan Howard testified that federal courts have ruled snap inspections at the state's abortion clinics are not legal because women's privacy rights are particularly at risk and warned of huge legal costs if the bill passes.

Howard noted that Arizona is bound by a 2010 agreement that settled a federal lawsuit brought by abortion providers over an earlier effort to allow snap inspections.

"We go through exactly the same inspection process" as other providers, he said. "The only difference today is whether that inspection will be scheduled or announced."

Lesko, the sponsor, said she is only trying to bring abortion clinics under the same regulations as other providers.

"I'm bringing this bill forward to protect women's health," she said. "It really is about that."

But Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said abortion clinics are different, noting that doctors and patients have been targeted by those opposed to abortion.

"There are reasons we have more protections at abortion clinics, because people have been killed, and that doesn't happen at other hospitals and clinics," Gonzales said.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, testified that the bill isn't unduly harsh

"In our view Arizona should not value the safety of women in abortion clinics less than men and women in other health facilities," Herrod said.

She also said that a federal appeals court ruling from 2004 was outdated and that a new legal challenge would likely fail. Herrod said states such as Connecticut, Alabama and Pennsylvania have similar inspection rules.

"We are not out of the mainstream. We are not the wacko here all of a sudden requiring surprise inspections," she said.

But Howard said lawmakers should not depend on Herrod for advice on the legality of the measure.

"Regarding any assurances that are made to you by Herrod and her colleagues that these provisions are constitutional, the last proposal she brought to you racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in court expenses," Howard said.

He was referring to a 2012 law banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, well before the 24 weeks where a fetus is considered viable. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year said such bans violate a long string of U.S. Supreme Court rulings starting with the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The U.S. Supreme Court refused Arizona's appeal of that ruling last month.

The Republican controlled Legislature has passed a series of laws in recent years tightening rules on abortion clinics and limiting abortion rights, with the support of GOP Gov. Jan Brewer.

Last year, Herrod floated a similar proposal that would ban state funding to any group like Planned Parenthood that also provided abortion services. The funding provision is not included in the current bill, but it does add a misdemeanor crime for people who help minors get around the state's parental-consent laws.

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