February 5, 2001
volume 12, no. 36

Arizona Abortion Facilities Still Unlicensed Despite Law

    PHOENIX, AZ -(Arizona Republic from Women in Arizona still receive abortions in unlicensed abortion facilities, despite pledges made after a highly publicized abortion death three years ago.

    State lawmakers reacted to the 1998 abortion death of LouAnne Herron by passing a law that for the first time would have required state licensing of places where abortions are performed. But the regulations have become a political and legal train wreck.

    First, a New York pro-abortion legal group filed suit, derailing the pro-life law's implementation. The group argued that licensure is a poorly cloaked effort to put abortion practitioners out of business in Arizona and that it is unnecessary they claimed because those who perform abortions follow accepted standards of care -- even though such standards were violated in the death of Herron.

    The law, hammered out in the waning days of the 1998-99 legislative session, was prompted by Herron's death on April 17, 1998. The 33-year-old mother of two bled to death in the A-Z Women's Center abortion facility in Phoenix after a an abortion practitioner punctured her uterus during an abortion.

    The long-anticipated trial has packed Superior Court Judge Michael O. Wilkinson's courtroom and stirred emotional testimony about Herron's last three hours of life on a gurney at the abortion facility. But the legal drama over licensure has unfolded quietly in the background.

    Under the regulations, businesses that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month or any late-term abortions would be licensed by the state. They also would have to state in writing the reasons for abortions and techniques used.

    Clinics would be required to send ultrasound images of unborn children to a state laboratory to certify fetal age. In Arizona, an abortion practitioner can decide when an unborn child is able to live outside the womb, but the standard is generally 22-24 weeks.

    Last March 1, less than two years after Herron died, the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Law & Public Policy of New York, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Tucson against the state Department of Health Services.

    Kevin Ray, an assistant state attorney general, said the rules are "reasonable and conform to national guidelines." One in particular would have helped in the Biskind case, he said. It requires an abortion practitioner to be immediately available until all womans' conditions are stable. If the abortion practitioner can't be there, a physician's assistant or a licensed nurse must be at the abortion facility until discharge orders are signed.

    Prosecutors say Biskind left the abortion facility even though he knew no registered nurse was on duty and that Herron was in trouble.

    Federal Judge Raner Collins in late March temporarily blocked the state's new licensing rules. He is expected in the next few months to either uphold or ban the licensure or set a trial date.

    Patti Caldwell, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, said she worries that those who also do other medical procedures "could stop providing abortions."

    While the lawsuit over the licensure meanders through the courts, women continue to seek abortions in 10 facilities that do not have state licenses. Ten other abortion facilities are licensed by the state because they are owned by non-doctors. Planned Parenthood abortion facilities fall under those licensing rules.

    Planned Parenthood is disappointed that lawmakers didn't force DHS licensure on other outpatient procedures. The department licenses other medical facilities, including hospitals, outpatient treatment centers, dialysis units and home health agencies.

    But Sen. Sue Gerard, a Phoenix Republican, and chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, said that promise was made by Jeff Groscost, former speaker of the House, who left the legislature last year.

February 5, 2001
volume 12, no. 35
Pro Life News
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