WELLSBORO - Tougher regulatory guidelines are on the horizon for abortion clinics in Pennsylvania in light of a grand jury investigation that resulted in the arrest of a Philadelphia abortionist recently.
According to State Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro, a joint session on the matter between the House and Senate likely will be held in the next week or two.
It wasn't until a police raid on the clinic for alleged illegal drug sales about a year ago, that the horrendous conditions were exposed at the clinic - including unsanitary treatment rooms, containers of aborted fetuses stored on the premises and jars of the feet of aborted babies lining shelves on the wall according to a Grand Jury indictment that resulted in charges of murder of seven babies and at least one young woman against the clinic's director, Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
He said recently inaugurated Gov. Tom Corbett is reviewing a Department of Health report on the department's activities concerning the clinic over the last few years.
"The governor and his staff have taken a hard, careful look at it to see what should be done, whether it be in the form of regulations, or even an executive order," Baker said in a telephone interview Friday.
Baker said ongoing litigation between Gosnell and the government agency has hindered action by the department.
"I know they (the Department of Health officials) have been investigating and litigating with this fellow in that course of time and there was some confusion about who had what authority. He had hired an attorney and fought it in the courts," Baker said.
According to Baker, the current law concerning abortion clinics is "very ambiguous."
"The proposed legislation would promote patient safety and the health and welfare of the women of Pennsylvania. Presently, abortion facilities are not subject to any clear regulation," he said.
In the 261 page Grand Jury report that indicted Gosnell, and every worker in the clinic which included members of his own family, the Philadelphia district attorney presented 15 recommendations that Baker said would address the issues and that he would be adopting some of them.
"Simply put, the proposed legislation would include abortion facilities in the definition of health care facilities and subject them to the safety standards, the personnel and equipment requirements and the quality assurance procedures to which an ambulatory surgical center is subject," he said.
"This is a common sense approach to regulation and inspection based on the similar nature of the procedures performed at both facilities, the type of anesthesia used at both facilities and the degree of care needed in the performance of these surgical procedures."
It also would provide a consistent means for inspecting these facilities, including: Inspection of every surgical center to ensure the facilities are sanitary and the patients served there are receiving the highest level of care, Unannounced annual inspections, Provide the Department of Health a range of remedies for facilities not in compliance with the regulations.
"Presently the Department of Health can either pass a facility who submits a plan for improvements, if there are defects found, or it can terminate a license. The present inability to impose a sanction or fine for failures allows for the repetitive offenses we have seen in recently publicized events," he added.
To its credit, since the February 2010 raid, the Department of Health has inspected all 22 of the state's abortion clinics, and "there have been no complaints" since then, he said.
"The Department of Health made a substantial shift in policy in February of 2010, after discovering the extent of the horrific conduct and abuses perpetrated by Dr. Gosnell in Philadelphia," Baker said.
The legislation, which Baker said is not quite ready to be introduced to the House of Representatives, is "designed to promote patient safety in Pennsylvania."