Wednesday, October 06, 2004

State A-G Wants Abortuary Inspections

October 6, 2004
AG wants abortion clinics inspected
Proposal pushes for same standards required by ambulatory surgical centers
By Jimmie E. Gates
jgates@clarionledger.com

State Attorney General Jim Hood wants the Mississippi Department of Health to inspect abortion clinics to determine if they meet a new state mandate requiring facilities performing late-term abortions to perform emergency surgeries.

The law, which says abortions beyond 13 weeks gestation can only be performed at places with ambulatory surgical center standards, was blocked in July after U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee issued a temporary restraining order. Providers who challenged the stricter mandates said it would have limited abortions after the 13th week of pregnancy to hospitals and outpatient surgical facilities, which don't perform abortions. Currently, abortions up to 16 weeks gestation are allowed.

"The main thing is that I want to send the Health Department to inspect those two abortion clinics to see if they meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers," Hood said Tuesday.
Jackson Women's Health Organization and New Woman Medical Center, both in Jackson, are the only two licensed abortion clinics in the state. Abortion clinics have not been inspected to see if they qualify as ambulatory surgical centers, Hood said.

"We would be able to say yea or nay," Hood said of whether the centers meet the standards. "Some courts have said it's safer to have it (second trimester abortions) done in ambulatory surgical centers."

The Jackson Women's Health Organization challenged the new, stricter law that would have taken effect July 1.

A status conference seeking a permanent injunction against the law is set for Oct. 28 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alfred G. Nichols, Hood said.

One of the main standards for an ambulatory surgical center is having staffers qualified to perform emergency surgery on a woman if some medical emergency occurs during an abortion.

Lee, in his July ruling, said Jackson Women's Health Organization has been safely performing early second-trimester abortions for years and it is difficult to conclude the new law "does anything to further the state's professed desire to protect the health and safety of women who choose abortion."

Susan Hill of North Carolina, president of Jackson Women's Health Organization, said her clinic has wanted to apply for an ambulatory surgical center license, but has never been allowed. She disagreed with Hood's approach to trying to solve the legal dispute.

"It's putting the cart before the horse," she said of Hood's proposal, adding she questions the idea of having the Health Department inspect without the clinic making a formal application for an ambulatory surgical center license.

Hill said the Health Department already inspects the clinic annually under its regular licensing. She said her attorneys will discuss the proposal with Hood's office.

Kelly Shannon-French, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said late Tuesday that it would be today before officials would have a comment on the inspection proposal.

Hill also said her office is in negotiation to buy New Woman Medical Center on Briarwood Drive.

The negotiations were ongoing prior to the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure board suspending the clinic's main abortion doctor in August, she said.

Dr. Malachy Dehenre, 53, had his Mississippi license suspended following a similar action on July 28 in Alabama. Authorities there cited the death of one of Dehenre's patients less than 24 hours after receiving an abortion as the reason for the suspension.

No one answered the telephone Tuesday afternoon at the Briarwood clinic. Hill said she doesn't think the clinic is operating since Dehenre was suspended.

A receptionist at New Woman's attorney Christopher Tabb's office said he had no comment about the clinic.