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House approves abortion clinic inspection bill

The House passed a bill on March 4 allowing unannounced inspections of abortion clinics, a Center for Arizona Policy measure that died last year in the final chaotic days of session.

The bill, HB2284, passed on a vote of 34-22 along nearly partisan lines. Rep. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Kate Brophy-McGee, R-Phoenix, both broke ranks.

Under current law, health inspectors must get an administrative search warrant from a judge to conduct an unannounced inspection of an abortion clinic, and police must accompany the inspectors.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, the bill’s sponsor, said it is designed to protect the health of women and adds no more restriction to abortion clinics than any other medical clinic or hospital has.

She said she doesn’t understand why Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization, has fought it.

“What do they have to hide?” Lesko asked as votes were being cast.

The bill also would make it a crime to circumvent the state’s parental consent law and requires abortion clinics to report whether a baby survived an attempted abortion and what steps doctors took to save it.

Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod has said the bill is to prevent a repeat of Philadelphia physician Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted last year of three counts of murder for killing newborns.

Minority Leader Chad Campbell said the Gosnell case grew out of a complete failure of the system in Pennsylvania, which never inspected his clinics.

Campbell said the bill opens the door to potential harassment of patients while they are in an emotionally difficult position.

“I’m not sure how we can condone that as a state,” Campbell said.

Bryan Howard, CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the Arizona Department of Health Services already has the ability to conduct unannounced inspections, provided there is evidence of health or safety risks.

“ADHS did not request this legislation,” Howard said in a written statement.

He has hinted the legislation is going to lead to more litigation. Two 2012 anti-abortion laws written and supported by the center were declared unconstitutional by courts last year and were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“HB2284 reveals a larger pattern in which well-funded interest groups with narrow social agendas influence legislators to pass unconstitutional laws that damage our state’s reputation and cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” Howard said.

Brophy McGee, who voted against the measure, said it should have included an appropriation or recommended appropriation for estimated legal fees.

“This is in recognition of the fact our resources are finite and we want to spend those monies the best way we know how,” Brophy McGee said.

Lesko said the bill’s roots can be traced to 1998 when LouAnne Herron, a 33-year-old Phoenix woman, died from a botched abortion. The doctor, John Biskind, was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.

Her death led to comprehensive abortion restrictions passed by the state, including unannounced inspections, which Planned Parenthood agreed to, Lesko said.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the provision to be unconstitutional because abortion clinics are not a “closely regulated industry,” meaning the government can’t intrude unless it gets a complaint and a warrant.

Government can make surprise inspections of closely regulated industries.

Herrod has said clinics have become more regulated in Arizona since the 2004 decision.

But Howard said the court didn’t apply the closely-related tag to abortion clinics because the expectation of privacy is heightened since abortion is a constitutionally protected right.

The bill still has to gain Senate approval and the signature of the governor to become law.

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