By L. A. Williams
Christian Action League
July 15, 2014
A year after the N.C. General Assembly passed landmark pro-life legislation that included an assigned overhaul of abortion clinic regulations, the Department of Health and Human Services has yet to release any new rules.
The agency has, however, asked for an additional $900,000 to implement the anticipated stricter regulations that will likely include more regular inspections.
“The General Assembly did not mandate a timeline for completion,” Drexdal Pratt, director of the Division of Health Service Regulation, said in a statement released to the media earlier this month, “but DHHS is thoroughly working through the process.”
He emphasized that the agency is “fully committed to complying with Senate Bill 353,” and that any revised regulations would “address patient safety and privacy without unduly restricting access.”
He said DHHS is following its normal rule-making policies and procedures.
Senate Bill 353, Health and Safety Law Changes, passed last year and signed by the governor despite widespread protests from abortion promoters, authorizes DHHS to apply any requirement for ambulatory surgery centers to the standards for abortion clinics. The agency is to address not only the on-site recovery phase of patients, but privacy, quality assurance and medical attention for patients with complications.
In a report to the Legislature last December, DHHS said DHSR employees had reviewed current rules for both abortion clinics and ambulatory surgical facilities and that feedback from abortion providers, OB/GYN physicians, and the N.C. Board of Nursing had been received. The report said regulators were in the process of writing the initial draft of the new rules, which would be reviewed by the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Office of State Budget and Management before being published in the N.C. Register, displayed on the DHHS web site and provided to stakeholders for review.
But nearly seven months later, Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke), who helped usher the bill through the Legislature in the wake of the horrendous Kermit Gosnell case in Pennsylvania, has heard nothing from DHHS concerning the new rules.
While he said he could not speculate on what is going on internally at the agency, Sen. Daniel said he believes they should have had proposed rules by now and that there has been some concern from legislators about the make-up of the committee that offered feedback.
“It appeared the industry was more strongly represented than were pro-life advocates,” he explained.
“I think in this year’s short session, we don’t have time to look at it,” Sen. Daniel said of the General Assembly. “But if we come back in January and we are still in the same place we are today, then I think we need to revisit it.”
Some sources at the Legislature say they do not doubt the agency’s claim that it needs to hire more inspectors for abortion clinics. One unnamed source close to the probe that helped lead to the legislation said that inspection records for 2010 to 2013 showed that more than a few of the state’s 15 or so clinics were not being inspected as often as the law requires and that many of the inspections were complaint driven. When a clinic was cited and filed a plan of action to address an identified problem, the proposed correction would be approved or disapproved via letter, but rarely would a physical follow-up inspection occur, the source reported, describing the situation as allowing the clinics to work “on the honor system.”
As a result, some of the clinics became repeat offenders, continually violating rules regarding lab issues, personnel files, patient records and more.
“Although abortion promoters tried to make it look like Senate Bill 353 was an attack on access to abortion rather than an attempt to improve safety for women, the truth is these multiple violations of regulations — rules that were put in place in the mid 1990s and haven’t been updated since — shows that many in the industry have provided substandard care for women for years. It’s time for those standards to be improved and enforced,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Sure, we’d love to see every abortion clinic closed, but if we must have them, they at least need to provide women with quality care.”
Dr. Creech said whether DHHS is dragging its feet in proposing new regulations is not clear.
“Obviously, there is political pressure on both sides of this issue, but the bottom line is that the abortion industry needs to be held accountable,” he said. “Praise the Lord, nothing like the Gosnell situation has been discovered in North Carolina, but the longer the state goes without mandating and performing thorough and regular inspections, the greater our chances of having something horrible occur.”