PHOENIX - Abortion foes are making a late-session push to allow health inspectors to inspect clinics without a warrant.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said Thursday that abortion clinics are the only medical facilities in the state regulated by the Department of Health Services where a warrant is needed before an unannounced inspection. She is working with Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, to end that exemption.
Herrod acknowledged a 1999 law to allow warrantless inspections was voided by a federal appeals court after being challenged by the Tucson Woman's Clinic. It took a decade of negotiations between state health officials and those who challenged the law to come up with the current rules, which permit unannounced inspections - but only after obtaining a warrant from a judge.
Herrod said the legal landscape has changed in the last 14 years, including Arizona's adopting comprehensive abortion regulations that have been upheld by the courts.
She said she believes that eliminates the problems that caused the appellate court to ban warrantless inspections.
"Every medical facility in Arizona is subject to unannounced inspections by regulators except for abortion clinics," she said, "It's a no-brainer to say that abortion clinics should have to abide by the same health-and-safety process that other medical facilities in our state are required to abide by."
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, acknowledged abortion clinics are unique in that unannounced inspections require a warrant. But he said the solution should be for other kinds of health facilities to demand the same protection, rather than end protections for abortion facilities.
Howard said abortion clinics are unique because groups like Herrod's have targeted them. He said the need for a warrant is appropriate "given the hostility of some political figures to the services we provide, and the disruption that our patients would face if they were subject to an unannounced inspection for no reason."
Barto acknowledged the requirement for a warrant is nothing new, having been enacted by rule in 2010. But she said the issue came to the forefront only recently as the result of the release of an undercover video by the anti-abortion group Live Action taken at the Family Planning Associates clinic in Phoenix.
In that video, according to Live Action founder Lila Rose, a Live Action volunteer is misled about the procedure and the development of the fetus at that point. Calls to the clinic seeking comment were not returned.
Barto also cited last month's murder verdict against a Pennsylvania abortion doctor, which she said shows "what abortion clinics will do when they are not properly regulated."
Howard, however, said the evidence proves otherwise, noting a 71-page written response given last month by the state Department of Health Services to a public records request by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
It says in a five-year period the state has taken only one enforcement action against an abortion facility. And that was based on violation of rules on administration, infection control and expired medications and supplies.
Howard said the additional hurdle of having to convince a judge there is probable cause for a warrant is justified given the efforts by Herrod's group and others to harass them and put them out of business.
"Hospitals, for example, ambulatory surgery centers, are not under continuously politically inspired assault," Howard said.
"The Center for Arizona Policy is not seeking to close down St. Joe's (hospital)," he continued. "They are seeking to shut down Planned Parenthood, and their protesters do seek to interrupt and impose burdens on women getting health care."
Howard said that is why the federal court in 2010 agreed to allow inspections only with a warrant.
Herrod has never denied her organization's ultimate goal is to make abortion illegal in Arizona. But she said that is irrelevant to the question of unannounced warrantless inspections.
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