Anti-abortion group pushes clinic inspection law

PHOENIX - A powerful anti-abortion group is pushing for last-minute legislation to allow unannounced inspections at Arizona abortion clinics, saying the change is needed because they are the only medical facilities in the state that don't have such snap inspections.

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy said Thursday that her proposal in the waning days of the legislative session isn't designed to either derail Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion proposal or avoid public scrutiny that proposed laws normally undergo through legislative hearings beginning early each year.

Instead, she said it was prompted by a recent undercover video made by a national anti-abortion group showing a doctor and counselor at a Phoenix abortion clinic discussing the possibility that some aborted fetuses may show life after being removed from a woman's body, and the recent murder conviction of a Philadelphia abortion doctor whose clinic wasn't inspected.

Planned Parenthood Arizona president Bryan Howard said clinics are already inspected and a new proposal in the waning days of the legislative session is a classic tactic of Herrod's group.

"It understands that its proposals cannot withstand the scrutiny of public hearings," Howard said.

The clinic in the undercover video shot in Phoenix was not run by Planned Parenthood.

Abortion clinics are inspected before they are licensed in Arizona and during periodic relicensing, Howard said. They are also subject to unannounced "snap" inspections if the Department of Health Services has reason to believe there are problems and gets an administrative warrant.

The proposal also met with criticism from Democrats in the Legislature, including House Assistant Minority Leader Ruben Gallego and Senate Minority Leader Lean Landrum Taylor.

"Cathi Herrod is not really truly worried about the health of women by demanding these inspections," Gallego said. "What she wants is a mechanism to essentially harass providers of women's health care such as Planned Parenthood. I think Cathi Herrod needs to take home something to her donors. She understands this session has been a failure for her."

Landrum Taylor said such a proposal so late in the session when a budget deal is close is simply a "big monkey wrench."

Not so, Herrod said.

"This isn't a big monkey wrench. This is a very simple measure," she said. "If every medical facility in the state is subject to unannounced inspection by the Department of Health Services then surely abortion clinics should be subject to the same type of inspections. That's a simple amendment on a bill moving through the legislative process.

Exactly how such a measure could make it out of the Legislature as it works to pass a budget and adjourns in the coming days is unclear, and Herrod refused to discuss her strategy. She also has been pushing lawmakers to add a provision to a Medicaid expansion bill banning any funding for Planned Parenthood. State and federal funding is already banned for abortions, but she argues that Planned Parenthood uses its other women's health services to support abortions. A bill defunding Planned Parenthood passed last year but has been blocked by a federal judge, and Brewer has said she won't back its revival in her Medicaid proposal.

Arizona's Republican-controlled Legislature has a decidedly anti-abortion bent and has pushed through many of her proposals in recent years, so Herrod's latest measure may get some traction. Brewer also is anti-abortion, so the measure could pass muster with her if it passes.

Republican Senate President Andy Biggs would support such a measure, although he acknowledged that it would be highly unusual for such last-minute legislation to be taken up. But he said with Medicaid expansion growing the pool of people who use family planning provided by Planned Parenthood, getting one or both of Herrod's proposals attached to Medicaid would be welcome by many Republicans.

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