CHICAGO — An Illinois abortion clinic that's been closed since September because of health and safety violations can pay a $9,750 fine to reopen under a settlement the state Department of Public Health approved Wednesday.
Dr. Kenneth Soyemi, the health department's acting director, signed the agreement, said agency spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. The deal includes a provision that would allow the state to immediately revoke the license of the Northern Illinois Women's Center in Rockford, without holding a hearing, if any serious violations are repeated.
The clinic could decide to remain closed and give up its license with a reduced fine of $1,000, Arnold said.
Harold Hirshman, an attorney representing the clinic, said his clients have resolved matters to the satisfaction of the health department and "could open tomorrow" legally. He said he couldn't discuss his clients' plans for the facility.
Anti-abortion advocates said they will continue their sidewalk picketing outside the clinic if it reopens and criticized the state health department for not inspecting the Rockford abortion clinic between 1996 and 2011.
In September, after complaints did lead to an investigation, the state health department issued an emergency license suspension, saying doctors didn't have surgery privileges at an Illinois licensed hospital and the clinic lacked an experienced operating room nurse.
The state also cited the clinic for unsanitary practices and failing to have a written agreement with a certified laboratory to do medical tests not performed at the clinic. The state had assessed a $15,000 fine.
Lack of resources led to the Rockford clinic going without a full health inspection between 1996 and 2011, Arnold of the health department acknowledged.
The state has done full health inspections of every pregnancy termination center within the past year, she said. Illinois has nine such licensed centers.
Hirshman said doctors now have hospital privileges, the clinic's nursing staff is adequate and there is an agreement with a certified lab. He added that patients' health and safety never were in jeopardy.
But the leader of an anti-abortion law firm said state inspectors found unsanitary practices that did threaten women's health.
"Considering the utter disregard for basic medical standards found by Public Health personnel, we hope they won't wait another 14 years to reinspect this clinic," said Peter Breen, executive director of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society.
A Wednesday hearing on the alleged violations in Chicago ended abruptly with the announcement by attorneys for the state and the clinic that an agreement had been reached.
The clinic has been the target of anti-abortion protesters. Joseph Scheidler of Pro-Life Action League said protesters will return with posters depicting aborted fetuses and they will again attempt to convince women seeking abortions to change their plans.
"It will all start over: the pickets, protests," Scheidler said.