St. Louis Abortion Clinic Escapes State Health Inspections

 

by Joe Ortwerth of Missouri Family Policy Council

August 20, 2014

The Missouri Family Policy Council has learned that Missouri’s major abortion clinic has not undergone required state health and safety inspections for most of the last decade and a half.  State health officials haveonly conducted annual inspections of the Reproductive Health Services (RHS) clinic in St. Louis City’s Central West End in six of the last fourteen years.

State law stipulates that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) shall inspect and investigate abortion clinics “as it deems necessary.”  However, state regulations require that abortion facilities such as RHS be surveyed each year as part of an annual license renewal process.  The on-site survey, or inspection, is mandated to ensure that the facility is in “substantial compliance” with state health and safety guidelines.

The Missouri Family Policy Council filed a Sunshine Law request with DHSS officials concerning the history of state health inspections of the RHS clinic operated by
Planned Parenthood.  That information reveals that the RHS clinic was not inspected by the state in the years 2004 to 2008 and in the years 2010 to 2012.  State health officials have purged all records prior to 2001 which would reveal not only the results of abortion clinic inspections but whether the inspections even occurred in the first place.
Department officials say that the on-site inspections were not conducted “due to staff limitations.”  Department staff have been unable to offer any further explanation as to why the Department had failed to comply with its own regulations during those years.  

Officials from the Department say that records of inspections prior to 2001 are unavailable because of “record retention” policies.

It would seem that the failures of state health officials to conduct annual abortion clinic inspections do not reflect any political ideology.  Inspections were not conducted during one year of the Holden Administration, three years of the Nixon Administration, and all four years of the Blunt Administration.

The controversy over abortion clinic inspections occurs against the backdrop of heightened concerns over the health and safety practices of Missouri’s only remaining abortion clinic.  Operation Rescue and Defenders of the Unborn have documented 26 instances in the last five years in which ambulances transported women from the St. Louis abortion clinic to nearby hospitals.

The latest incident occurred on July 10th when an ambulance and fire truck arrived at the fortress-like facility on Forest Park Avenue.  Clinic workers held sheets to shield the stretcher as the woman was loaded

into the emergency response vehicle.  The ambulance then promptly left with its lights flashing.

It was noticeable that this time the ambulance that arrived was that of a private company.  Pro-life activists believe that the private service may have been called so that Planned Parenthood staff could avoid calling St. Louis City’s 9-1-1 emergency dispatching center.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Operation Rescue against the St. Louis City Fire Department seeking complete records of 9-1-1 calls made from the Planned Parenthood facility.    While Operation Rescue was supplied with a total of 57

dispatching transcripts, the records were so heavily redacted of information that even the dates of the calls were removed. 

Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, says it is essential that the city provide full disclosure of all non-confidential information.  “Information we get from 9-1-1 calls has been valuable at revealing the truth about what is going on behind the closed doors of abortion clinics. 

“We have used it to protect women from shoddy and dangerous practices that have injured and even killed ladies at abortion facilities around the nation,” Newman adds.  “Without access to this public information, the

abortion clinics can continue to exploit women for profit by cutting corners on patient care standards–all under the guise of secrecy.”

The most recent inspection of the Reproductive Health Services clinic, which occurred in January of this year, found rusty surgical tables, suction abortion machines, IV stands, and other equipment.  The survey also found expired drugs and violations of infection prevention protocol.

Two members of the Missouri General Assembly filed legislation this past session which would have tightened the state’s inspection process for abortion clinics. Senator Wayne Wallingford and Representative Kathy Swan, both from Cape Girardeau, filed bills that would have placed an express requirement in state law that abortion clinics be inspected four times a year.

The bills would have also authorized state officials to immediately close an abortion clinic if they discovered “an immediate and serious risk of harm to the health and safety of the patients.”  The bills were revised during the legislative process to only require one formal on-site inspection each year.  Neither of the bills succeeded in gaining final passage before the legislative session adjourned.   The proposals are expected to be reintroduced next year.

The Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in St. Louis is now the only licensed abortion facility in the state of Missouri.  The license of the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Columbia lapsed last summer.  Department officials say that it no longer met the definition of an abortion facility. 

Under state law, a facility that performs abortions must be licensed if it performs five or more first-trimester abortions per month, or performs any second or third-trimester abortions.  The abortion license of Planned Parenthood’s Brous Center in Kansas City also has lapsed.  Chemical abortions had been provided at that facility.

Nearly half of abortions performed on Missouri women are conducted at abortion clinics outside Missouri.  One of those clinics, Aid for Women in Kansas City, Kansas, closed in late July after the doctor who performed abortions there supposedly retired.  The clinic had a notorious past, including the improper dumping of patient records, which contained the names of 86 women “served” by the clinic, along with their phone numbers and copies of their driver’s licenses.

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