APNewsBreak: Ill. cracks down on abortion clinics

By Carla K. Johnson

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

FILE - This Nov. 18, 2008 file photo shows the Northern Illinois Women's Center in Rockford, Ill. In 2011, after revelations in Philadelphia, Illinois inspectors visited all nine licensed abortion clinics that are designated as pregnancy termination centers, a regulatory category that limits those nine clinics to performing first-trimester abortions and no other procedures. The Northern Illinois Women’s Health Center in Rockford and the Women’s Aid Clinic in Lincolnwood were among those nine inspected clinics. The state found health and safety violations and issued emergency license suspensions for both clinics.

Rockford Register Star, Amy Van Horn, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CHICAGO — An increased scrutiny of Illinois abortion clinics in the wake of revelations about a "house of horrors" in Philadelphia revealed that some facilities had gone up to 15 years without inspections, and two now have closed after regulators found health and safety violations.

The renewed oversight by state regulators led to the permanent closure of a clinic in Rockford earlier this month, following the closing of a clinic in suburban Chicago last October, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

One of those facilities — the Women's Aid Clinic in Lincolnwood — closed when the owner decided to surrender its license rather than pay a $36,000 fine or endure an expensive legal fight with the state. The fine was for violations including the clinic's failure to perform CPR on a patient who died after a procedure. Its owner told the AP her clinic was safe and she felt victimized by the surprise inspection after 15 years.

While Illinois is working on the backlog of neglected inspections, the documents reviewed by the AP show that a few abortion clinics in the state still haven't been checked in more than a decade. One in Chicago hasn't been inspected in 16 years. Another in the suburb of Wood Dale was last inspected nearly 15 years ago.

State officials attribute the lag to a lack of funds and resources, noting that the state's 24 trained health inspectors are responsible for inspecting nearly 2,000 facilities.

Anti-abortion activist Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said Illinois is "one of the most pro-abortion states in the nation" and he believes it gave the clinics "a pass." The state has shown "a systematic unwillingness to step away from the ideology and look at these facilities objectively," he said, calling for more stringent inspections.

State regulators say ideology isn't involved.

The closure of the two clinics has invigorated the efforts of anti-abortion groups to shut down others throughout the state. Abortion-rights advocates are worried the state's heightened surveillance will restrict access to abortion for Illinois women. The closed Rockford clinic was Winnebago County's only abortion provider, making the closest ones now in Madison, Wis., or the Chicago suburbs.

Other states — Kansas, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Utah — are tightening regulations for abortion clinics following the 2010 raid on a Philadelphia abortion provider that regulators had ignored for years.

Authorities there described a filthy "house of horrors" where late-term abortions were routinely performed by untrained staff, and viable newborns died by having their spinal cords cut with scissors. Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 70, is awaiting trial on charges he killed seven newborns and one patient. He has denied the allegations. His wife and six clinic employees have pleaded guilty to lesser roles in the clinic operation.

Those reports also spurred the Illinois Department of Public Health into action, said Karen Senger, who supervises licensing and regulation of health care facilities in the state. The documents show the state began quietly increasing the inspections of its clinics last year.

"It was a departmental decision," Senger said, adding the Philadelphia case "gave us a focus" and motivation to find out "when was the last time we were in these facilities?"

Not for years, it turned out.

In 2011, Illinois inspectors visited all nine licensed abortion clinics that are defined as pregnancy termination centers, a category that limits them to first-trimester abortions and no other procedures.

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