Abortion and women’s health: Why the Supreme Court should uphold Texas law

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will take up a major abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.  Even without Justice Scalia’s feisty presence, sparks will be flying.  At issue is a Texas law that simply requires abortion clinics to meet the same reasonable health and safety standards as other outpatient surgical clinics.  Abortion, after all, is an invasive surgical procedure requiring anesthesia, and one that results in 3,000 women annually being sent to the hospital due to complications, according to Planned Parenthood’s research affiliate the Guttmacher Institute.  Some of these complications are life threatening.

Yet pro-choice advocates, claiming to speak for women, have fought against these safety standards, right up to the highest court in the land.  They argue that a majority of clinics in Texas will have to shut down because they don’t meet the safety standards.  Really?  That’s quite an admission.  “Advocates” for women’s health are fighting to continue to send women to clinics that offer substandard care? 

Let’s review a little recent history to see why the Texas law was passed in the first place.  The abortion industry, because of politics surrounding the issue, has traditionally operated under a shroud of secrecy with little oversight from health regulators.  Abortion clinics do not tend to attract the medical profession’s best and brightest; in fact, they attract a disproportionate number of incompetent and even grossly negligent doctors.  Inept, unscrupulous doctors dealing with women at a vulnerable time, with very little regulatory oversight — it’s a deadly combination.  Literally. 

If Karnamaya Mongar were still alive, we could ask her if there should have been more regulatory oversight of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic in Philadelphia, where she suffered deadly uterine and bowel perforation.  His notoriously unsanitary clinic operated for 17 years without a health inspection, and finally received a visit from regulators only after he was snagged for unrelated offenses related to his dealing in illegal prescription drugs.

I wonder what 22-year-old Semika Shaw would think of the clinic regulations before the Court, but we can’t ask her either because she, too, died at the hands of Dr. Gosnell.  Semika’s cousin, who happens to be a Democrat state legislator in Pennsylvania, pushed for clinic safety regulations just like those in the Texas law, arguing, “Today I honor (my cousin’s) memory by voting yes on this legislation, that seeks to safeguard the health of women… so that never again will a woman walk into a licensed health care facility in the State of Pennsylvania and be butchered as she was–with her uterus perforated and her death of sepsis and infection….” 

The abortion lobby quickly disowned Gosnell, calling him an outlier.  He may have been particularly gross in his malpractice, but unfortunately, there are Gosnell types crawling all over the abortion industry. 

Consider other cases, most only known because Gosnell’s publicity caused some regulators to take a closer look behind the veil of the abortion industry.  Two more abortionists at a Gosnell-affiliated clinic in Delaware, Drs. Albert Sworkin and Arturo Apolinario, had their medical licenses revoked for unscrupulous and illegal practices. 

Around the same time, two nurses at Planned Parenthood clinics in Delaware quit, citing unsafe and unsanitary abortions after 5 women ended up in the hospital that year due to botched abortions.  One of those negligent doctors, Timothy Liveright, also operated clinics in California, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  Dr. Liveright was accused by the Delaware deputy attorney general of “incompetence and negligence” and of being an “immediate danger to the public”, as well as sexual misconduct, but it seems he’s been re-hired by a California Planned Parenthood where he apparently currently works!

Another woman who would have benefited from tighter abortion regulations is 29-year-old kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Morbelli, who tragically died in February of 2013 at the hands of Dr. Leroy Carhart in Maryland.  After publicity surrounding Morbelli’s death, four clinics in Maryland were shut down in March, then allowed to reopen again before being shuttered again in May, but only after yet another woman died at a Baltimore clinic.  One of the doctors had previously been suspended for unwanted sexual contact with patients.  

Also in 2013, Dr. Robert Alexander’s abortion clinic in Michigan was cited for violations including “filthy” conditions, and reports of a botched abortion resulting in uterine rupture (and a live birth – oops, babies that survive are not supposed to happen during an abortion).  Dr. Alexander, according to the Huffington Post, had previously lost his medical license twice and served time in prison for prescription drug dealing. 

Two more Michigan abortion clinics operated by Dr. Reginald Sharpe were closed in 2013 after the discovery of illegally dumped fetal remains.  Dr. Sharpe’s distinguished medical career included a previous suspension of his medical license and a lawsuit due to the perforation of a 26-year-old woman’s uterus resulting in her death.

In Ohio, Capital Care Network abortion was cited for multiple violations of basic health and safety standards in 2013.  After complications at another Ohio clinic in 2014, 22-year-old Lakisha Wilson died.  Look back a little further to find the death of Tonya Reaves at a Chicago Planned Parenthood in 2012 (Planned Parenthood was forced to pay a $2 million settlement), the “drugs decades past their expiration dates, inadequate or inoperable equipment” at Dr. Soleiman Soli’s clinic in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and the complaints of “serial” disregard for health regulations at Dr. Steven Brigham’s clinic in Allentown.  Dr. James Pendergraft had his medical license suspended in Virginia and was convicted of attempted extortion, but apparently continues to run multiple abortion clinics in Florida.  Dr. Brian Finkel of Arizona was convicted on 22 counts of sexually abusing 30 patients over 17 years.

There is a pattern of little regulation and oversight, and dodgy doctors who lose a license in one state but set up shop in another, until women end up abused, in the hospital or the morgue.  The Court should uphold the Texas law, which would help weed out the creepy cast of characters posing as purveyors of women’s health care. 

Maureen Ferguson is Senior Policy Advisor for The Catholic Association. 

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