New Maryland health rules will require licensing of abortion clinics -- Gazette.Net


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The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released new regulations June 22 requiring all abortion clinics in the state to apply for a license. Previously, physicians performing abortions required a license, but clinics as a whole did not.

Beginning July 23, clinics will have to pay $1,500 for a three-year license and consent to an inspection by state health officials. They’ll also need to follow strict guidelines regarding anesthesia, cleanliness and emergency services.

The department is providing clinics with a “grace period” of 120 days to “ask questions and make sure there’s no misunderstanding,” said Frances Phillips, deputy director of public health services for the state health department and a member of the team that created the regulations. During that time, clinics may opt for a voluntary inspection to determine whether they’ll meet all the requirements of the official inspection.

The new rules are a product of two years of discussion with a variety of interest groups, including Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Maryland Catholic Conference.

The conference is pleased with the new regulations, said Nancy Paltell, the organization’s associate director. Initially, she said, several pro-abortion rights groups were opposed to the regulations, which they feared would raise costs. But both sides of the abortion debate and legislators were “taken aback” by the numbers of women who had been harmed by the lack of oversight of abortion clinics, Paltell said.

“This really is about health and safety,” Paltell said. “Let’s put ideology aside.”

Paltell and other representatives from the conference pushed hard for abortion clinics to be regulated as surgery providers, rather than doctors’ offices as they were considered previously.

The ACLU, too, is happy with the regulations, and representatives were impressed by the Health Department’s evidence-based approach to finding acceptable guidelines, ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said.

“Our twin goals have always been that abortions remain safe and accessible, and these regulations allow for that,” Rocah said.

The new regulations apply only to the approximately 20 clinics in the state whose sole purpose is to provide abortions, Phillips said. The department has for 17 years had the power to regulate abortion providers, but until now it hadn’t exercised that authority.

Discussion of new regulations began in 2010, after a woman was left in critical condition after a botched abortion procedure in Elkton. The unlicensed physician had no plan for emergency transport, so the woman was placed in the backseat of her car with a family member assigned to drive her to the hospital.

Most clinics will not have to make significant changes to their clinics to pass the inspection, Phillips said.

“Maryland has always had safe abortions,” Phillips said. “These regulations are really for the outliers.”

scutler@gazette.net