Missouri Bill Would Increase Inspection Requirements for State’s Only Abortion Clinic

“This is simply just another bill to harass us because we provide abortion care, and not a bill to address a problem, because no problem exists,” said Paula Gianino, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and of Southwest Missouri.

Introduced by state Rep. Kathy Swan (above), HB 1478 has 107 co-sponsors, primarily Republicans. Cape City / YouTube

A bill introduced in the Missouri legislature last week would increase the number of inspections that abortion clinics must undergo per year, and authorize the immediate closure of any facility that poses an “immediate and serious risk of harm to the health or safety” of patients. The bill also would change the definition of “medical emergency,” removing “psychological or emotional conditions” from the current legal definition in the state.

Introduced by state Rep. Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau)HB 1478 has 107 co-sponsors, primarily Republicans. The bill represents a political gain for Missouri Right to Life, which said in a statement that the legislation “will place in statute stricter inspection requirements and more accountability for abortion clinics.” 

The bill would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to conduct at least four inspections per year of any clinic that provides abortions.

Currently, there is one clinic in the state that provides abortion services.

If an “immediate and serious risk of harm” to patients is found, the department could close a clinic within 24 hours. A clinic can request re-inspection within ten days, and can reopen after any issues have been addressed.

Missouri Right to Life claims that these new inspections are necessary because current regulations “aren’t being enforced thus putting women at risk,” citing discrepancies found during a Missouri Department of Health inspection of Planned Parenthood St. Louis in January of 2013. The inspection was conducted in response to a complaint that was found to be “unsubstantiated,” according to DHSS documents; an on-site visit conducted in March found that the clinic was in “substantial compliance with the rules and regulations for abortion facilities.”

Missouri Right to Life also claims the increased regulations are necessary because of complaints documented by Operation Rescue. According to the anti-choice group, the local Planned Parenthood has seen 23 medical emergencies since 2009. The group claims that during each incident an ambulance transferred a patient to the hospital after complications from an abortion. 

Paula Gianino, CEO of the state’s one operating abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and of Southwest Missouri, told Rewire that while she could not verify the exact number of times ambulances have arrived at the clinic, it is the clinic’s policy to call emergency services for anyone, including patients, visitors, and staff, for reasons that could include falling, fainting, or becoming ill for any reason. “We have a policy to call 9-1-1 regardless of the situation,” said Gianino.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people visit the Planned Parenthood St. Louis clinic each year, according to Gianino, including patients, family members, vendors, and employees. About 6,000 people per year visit the clinic to receive abortion care. Even if Operation Rescue’s claims were accurate, said Gianino, that would mean that less than one in every 1,000 patients receiving abortion services required hospitalization.

“This is simply just another bill to harass us because we provide abortion care, and not a bill to address a problem, because no problem exists,” she said.

“We welcome the Department of Health officials, whose objective expert eyes can come into our facilities and point out areas where we can improve,” said Gianino, referring to the annual inspections that state clinics are already subject to, and which the St. Louis Planned Parenthood is undergoing this week. “They make every effort to balance their job to inspect while balancing the privacy of our patients to make sure there is as little disruption as possible, and we are working with them to provide all of the documentation and information they require.”

As of Tuesday, HB 1478 had not been assigned to a committee. It will likely be sent to the house’s standing Health Care Policy Committee, which has received for review four other pieces of anti-choice legislation this session, including bills proposing forced ultrasounds,wmandatory waiting periods, and parental notification of minors seeking an abortion.