JEFFERSON CITY — An abortion facility in Missouri would need to be inspected at least four times annually under a newly proposed measure in the state House.
The legislation introduced this past week is a priority for Missouri Right to Life, which calls it a "strong bipartisan and pro-life" bill. Anti-abortion groups have pointed to a state inspection that identified several issues at a St. Louis clinic and to demonstrators who have witnessed about two dozen ambulance trips at the facility over the past several years.
The goal is to impose "stricter inspection requirements and more accountability for abortion clinics," Missouri Right to Life President Pam Fichter said in a written statement.
The legislation, sponsored by Cape Girardeau Republican Kathy Swan, has more than 100 co-sponsors, including the House speaker and majority leader.
Missouri's only facility currently performing elective abortions is in St. Louis, and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri says about one-fifth of patients travel more than 100 miles to get there.
President and CEO Paula Gianino said the state already can inspect as frequently as it chooses without advanced notice and that there is no precedent for the proposed requirement among other health facilities that provide even more complex procedures. She said the legislation is unnecessary and would increase costs for taxpayers. She said the facility and its staff are committed to providing quality care.
"This is not a bill that's responding to a problem. This is a bill meant to create further burdens on us because we provide abortion care, pure and simple," Gianino said.
Missouri Right to Life said witnesses have seen 23 instances of ambulances responding to the clinic over four years.
A January 2013 inspection cited by the organization included several findings. Among them were ceiling air vents with "copious amounts of visible dust/dirt," dust covering a plastic bin with emergency supplies and rust on equipment such as a table and an IV pole. Some boxes of surgical gloves and three postpartum balloons used to control bleeding had expired. There also were expired drugs, including ammonia inhalant used for fainting, Valium used for sedation and a drug used to counter the effects of a narcotic overdose.
The facility developed a corrective plan, and the state health department reported during an unannounced revisit survey in March 2013 that it was in substantial compliance with rules and regulations.
Gianino said none of the findings were considered serious violations or involved quality of care. She said the facility this fall passed a national accreditation through Planned Parenthood Federation of America involving inspection and observation.
Gianino said about 17,000 patients and family members come to the clinic annually for family planning and abortion services and that there are more than 100 staff members in the building. She said there are a variety of reasons someone would be transported by ambulance and that the clinic has a policy of sending people to the emergency room if they fall and hit their heads. Employees have been sent by ambulance, she said.
Under the House legislation, inspections would be conducted as the Department of Health and Senior Services deems necessary but at least four times per fiscal year. No notice would be required before the clinic is examined. Inspectors could immediately close the facility if continued operation would constitute a serious risk of harm to the health or safety of patients.