Abortion Clinic Regulations, including unannounced inspections, vital to patient safety

By Dave Andrusko

GosnelljuryupdateEarlier today we posted the letter to the editor Richard Doerflinger sent to the Washington Post. Mr. Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hoisted the Post’s editorial board on its own petard.

The Post had lamented that an abortion clinic in Virginia had closed after the state finally passed rules requiring that abortion clinics be treated like outpatient surgical centers. The regulations address such issues as building standards, staff training, sanitation, and equipment standards.

The Post, in its typically snarky/uneducated manner, wrote that requiring abortion clinics to widen their corridors is “arbitrary” because “the width of doorways” has little to do with women’s health. Mr. Doerflinger pointed to the report of the Grand Jury investigating abortionist Kermit Gosnell which lamented that Karnamaya Mongar, the woman who died at Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society in 2009, might have been saved if not for the clinic’s narrow and cluttered hallway. (See “Abortion clinics are not the victims”)

The first reference in the Grand Jury report to how emergency personnel had been obstructed in trying to reach Mrs. Mongar comes early in the Grand Jury report in a section titled, “The Raid.” Here are the admittedly depressing facts.

#1. The FBI and local authorities executing search warrants on February 18, 2010, as part of a drug-trafficking investigation (“illegal prescription drug activity”). But prior to the raid, they’d heard of a woman who had died the previous November.

#2. During the drug trafficking investigation, they learned that “Gosnell routinely relied on unlicensed and untrained staff to treat patients, conduct medical tests, and administer medications without supervision. Even more alarmingly, Gosnell instructed unlicensed workers to sedate patients with dangerous drugs in his absence.”

#3. District Attorney’s Detective James Wood believed the woman’s death needed further investigation. “The detective searched for a police report on the incident, but finding none, he went to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office to try to identify the woman and to find out more about her death. Detective Wood learned that the dead woman was Karnamaya Mongar, and that her toxicology report revealed an extremely high level of Demerol, a drug Gosnell used at the clinic to anesthetize patients.”

#4. Putting this all this together—“this suspicious death and the other significant health and medical concerns”—DEA Agent Stephen Dougherty “invited personnel from the Pennsylvania Department of State (which regulates doctors and the practice of medicine) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (which regulates health care facilities) to accompany law enforcement officers on the February 18 raid. No one from these agencies had visited the clinic in more than 15 years, even after the Department of Health had been informed of Mrs. Mongar’s death months earlier.”

Subscribe-to-our-email-list

#5.The “two surgical procedure rooms” were described by one agent as resembling “a bad gas station restroom.” In addition, “Equipment was rusty and outdated. Oxygen equipment was covered with dust, and had not been inspected. The same corroded suction tubing used for abortions was the only tubing available for oral airways if assistance for breathing was needed. There was no functioning resuscitation or even monitoring equipment, except for a single blood pressure cuff in the recovery room.”

#6. Ambulances were summoned to pick up the waiting patients, but (just as on the night Mrs. Mongar died three months before), “no one, not even Gosnell, knew where the keys were to open the emergency exit. Emergency personnel had to use bolt cutters to remove the lock. They discovered they could not maneuver stretchers through the building’s narrow hallways to reach the patients (just as emergency personnel had been obstructed from reaching Mrs. Mongar).”

It DOES make a difference whether abortion clinics are inspected; it DOES make a difference if inspections are performed unannounced (which was not the case in Pennsylvania until a new law was passed last year); and it DOES make a life and death difference in an emergency situation whether emergency personnel can quickly get to a woman, quickly remove her, and quickly get her to a hospital.