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Pennsylvania Democrats propose scaling back Gosnell-era safety requirements

Lawmakers call abortion center standards “burdensome”

Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia on Jan. 20, 2011 Associated Press/Photo by Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania Democrats propose scaling back Gosnell-era safety requirements

When Jim Wood, a detective in Pennsylvania, heard that Democratic state representatives announced a bill last week to rescind protective health regulations in abortion facilities, he remembered the smell of dead babies on his clothes after raiding one of those facilities 14 years ago. In 2010, Wood and his team entered the Women’s Medical Society at 3801 Lancaster Ave.—a site the media later began referring to as Gosnell’s “house of horrors”—in West Philadelphia to arrest owner and lead abortionist Kermit Gosnell. For over two decades, authorities had ignored warnings about Gosnell’s facility being staffed by unlicensed employees and littered with dirty and broken medical supplies, bloodstained furniture, and bodies of aborted babies stored in plastic jugs and bags.

“In patrol, you see a lot of ugly things,” Wood told me. “But when we got those babies out of the freezer … that’s definitely the worst that I’ve ever seen. Especially because we know how long he had been doing that.” Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania for up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. But many of Gosnell’s clients came to him because they were beyond that.

In 2011, then–Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed a bill amending the state’s Health Care Facilities Act after a grand jury report found Gosnell had used scissors to cut the spinal cords of babies born alive, a practice he called “snipping.” The report also detailed a drug mill in Gosnell’s center. The amendment reclassified abortion centers as ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF) to subject them to a higher standard of medical regulation such as infection control and yearly or random inspections.

Planned Parenthood–endorsed Democratic Rep. Tarik Khan led the initiative to rescind the Gosnell-era protections last week on the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Without mentioning the atrocities of Gosnell’s center that warranted them, Khan called the regulations “burdensome” and “targeted restrictions on abortion providers.” Eleven other House Democrats endorsed by Planned Parenthood are co-sponsoring the bill. As the number of abortions continues to rise in Pennsylvania, pro-lifers are concerned that erasing protections by divorcing them from the realities of unregulated facilities like Gosnell’s will inevitably enable more like his in the future.

“It makes me feel horrible. … We don’t learn from our mistakes,” Wood said of the new bill. “It’s only a matter of time before something else crazy happens, where a woman gets mutilated, and an investigation comes up. … If they lower these restrictions, they’re only going to hurt themselves.”

Pennsylvania lawmakers aren’t the first to target regulations that classify abortion facilities as ambulatory surgery centers. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state bill that would have allowed Texas to enforce similar requirements. Following that decision, a Pennsylvania state senator tried to undo the state’s 2011 Health Care Facilities Act amendment. When the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called for the removal of so-called ASF laws in 2014, the pro-abortion organization cited the inequality of increased abortions among minorities as a reason why the protections should not be enforced.

Cases like Gosnell’s undercut that reasoning. According to the grand jury report, Gosnell provided white patients with separate and cleaner waiting and operating rooms than those given non-white patients. Center staff said Gosnell personally oversaw the administration of anesthesia only for white women.

Rep. Khan claimed in a news conference last week that abortionists don’t make enough money to keep up with ambulatory surgery regulations. Khan said that, as a nurse practitioner himself, he knows firsthand how regulations limit the options for where healthcare providers can send patients to get abortions. Requirements like specific room sizes and updated HVAC systems are expensive accommodations not every facility can make, leading some to shut down. But abortion facilities often receive additional funding outside of fees.

Also last week, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro announced that taxpayer money usually allocated for pregnancy resource centers and other “alternatives to abortion” would be used to fund grants for pro-abortion organizations instead. In 2020, taxpayer money allocated to “family planning councils,” which often funneled funds to Planned Parenthood or similar businesses, amounted to over $50 million.

Michael Geer, president of the pro-life Pennsylvania Family Institute, says this simultaneous push from state lawmakers and the governor to withdraw regulations while expanding funds for abortion indicates a larger collaboration between the pro-abortion organizations and the politicians they endorse.

“Lawmakers are pushing the bidding of the abortion industry and Planned Parenthood. … They have a lot of money behind it,” he said. “The governor’s sending them more money, and then the other part of it is that they don’t want these restrictions and they’re political donors. So it’s a mutual back-scratching situation.”

Khan’s bill also aims to rescind transfer agreement requirements between abortion facilities and hospitals treating women suffering from abortion complications. When a woman is admitted to a hospital because of abortion complications, state law requires hospitals to report it. The transfer process gives hospitals an opportunity to vet abortionists by checking patients with complications for any signs of regulatory non-compliance.

In December, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that half of the abortion facilities in the state failed health inspections in 2023. Some repeatedly failed to sterilize their medical instruments or certify the credentials of their abortionists. Others failed to provide proper documentation for minors or disposed of the dead baby’s body parts improperly. WORLD contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Health asking for comments on how the state intends to protect women in abortion facilities without ambulatory surgery regulations but received no response.

While the effort to rescind the regulations is in its beginning stages, Geer of the Pennsylvania Family Institute encourages pro-lifers to emphasize the importance of even one life to help keep protections in abortion facilities.

“When two people go into an abortion clinic, a woman and the baby, typically only one comes out alive,” said Geer. “Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, we’ve had both end up dead. … And even if it just happens to one or two women … that’s one or two too many.”

Lillian Hamman

Lillian is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Berry College. She is a producer for WORLD Radio.

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