Back in May, Republicans in Congress (specifically members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Judicial Committee) requested that the attorneys general and health departments of each state provide them with information about how abortion services are regulated and monitored. The reason? To attempt to uncover Kermit Gosnell-like crimes and prove that abortion in America is a dangerous practice.
In response, the states provided thousands of pages of documentation, documentation that, according to a new report by RH Reality Check, did not fit the narrative the Republicans were looking for. The reproductive rights website (also known as RHRC) asked for — and analyzed — the same documentation that the states gave Congress (so far RHRC has collected data from 35 states). What it found is that increased abortion regulation in the United States wasn't — and isn't — necessary.
Take Texas, for example. In July, Governor Rick Perry, who has confessed to wanting to make abortion "a thing of the past," signed sweeping abortion regulations into law that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and "requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers and mandates that a doctor have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where he or she performs abortions." (The new requirements will most likely close 37 of Texas's 42 abortion clinics in the next year — they have 90 days to get admitting privileges and until September 2014 to comply with surgical-center standards. The documents that the Texas health department sent Congress, however, demonstrate that abortion was already highly regulated in the Lone Star state before the legislation passed. According to RHRC, the Texas Board of Nurses and the Texas Medical Board both reported that there was little to no risk for women who acquired abortions in the state. It was also reported that the Medical Board, which oversees and disciplines all physicians in the state,
took action against 58 physicians in June 2013 alone. It noted that it had taken disciplinary action for conduct related to abortion on only four occasions between 2008 and 2013, and none of those involved harm to women.
The health department, which inspects abortion clinics, also found no evidence of harm to women. Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for the health department, explained her organization's inspection procedures to RHRC:
Our role is to make sure facilities are safe and that the state’s laws and rules are being followed to protect the health of patients. We look at everything from policies and procedures to cleanliness and infection control. We review how medical instruments are cleaned and stored. We also review medical records and conduct interviews of staff and, in some cases, patients.
What this all means? That abortion clinics and providers were already highly regulated and scrutinized, sometimes to an extreme degree, before the new law passed, and that, as pro-choicers have long put it, abortion "regulation" really means abortion restriction.
Photo of Wendy Davis, who famously filibustered Texas's first attempt at abortion restriction earlier this summer, via AP.