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Guest Column: Higher standard of care needed at many abortion clinics

December 28, 2011

By Jay Ware

Oct. 3, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) suspended the operating license for the Rockford abortion clinic. The beleaguered clinic was cited for several health and safety violations in June and again in September. The Northern Illinois Women’s Center (NIWC), at the corner of Broadway and 10th Street in Rockford, was fined $15,000 before ultimately being suspended.

The reasons for the suspension are outlined in a three-page notice, dated Sept. 29 and signed by Damon T. Arnold, the director of the IDPH. The department “found conditions at the Northern Illinois Women’s Center (NIWC) directly threatening to the public interest, health, safety and welfare requiring immediate, emergency action.”

What has happened here in Rockford is hardly unique. Since 2008, similar scenarios have played out in clinics in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Louisiana and Virginia.

Rockford’s NIWC looks even worse when violations of professional standards are considered. The owner of the clinic displayed an image of Jesus flipping the middle finger with the caption “Even Jesus hates you.” This was done to antagonize the pro-life protesters, but think for a moment how women facing the most difficult decision in their lives may have been affected. It’s unimaginable that images such as this could be displayed by a clinic that performed vasectomy or in vitro fertilization, also opposed by the Catholic Church.

Ten years ago, several of us at Democrats For Life of America (DFLA) became convinced that a new, more honest, more thoughtful conversation should emerge. We explored a concept, “standard of care,” which is an everyday familiar legal term among medical professionals. Incredibly enough, standard of care is almost never applied to discussions of abortion policy. Consequently, the conditions in abortion clinics all across the country have sunk to dangerously low levels.

In legal terms, standard of care is the level at which the average, prudent provider in a given community would practice. It is how similarly qualified practitioners would have managed the patient’s care under the same or similar circumstances. The medical malpractice plaintiff must establish the appropriate standard of care and demonstrate that the standard of care has been breached.

An example is when the doctor asks you if you are allergic to penicillin before prescribing it. A significant percentage of people are allergic to penicillin. For those patients, prescribing it will harm rather than help them, so doctors are EXPECTED to do some level of screening before prescribing it. It’s the old “9 out of 10 doctors agree …” thing, and the oddball doctor who fails to take the expected precaution is vulnerable to being sued out of existence. This vulnerability helps maintain high standards in everything from plastic surgery to brain surgery.

Pre-operation screening practices in U.S. abortion clinics are often inadequate. Far too many post-abortion women express regret … the notion that if they only knew then what they know now, they would have done something other than end the pregnancy. The percentage of women who ultimately regret their abortion is impossible to say with certainty, but what can be known is the following:

A. Such women are probably the minority of post-abortive women, but undoubtedly exist in significant numbers. I have met or conversed with at least 100 such women since 2001 when we started DFLA. They are all around us. At school, work, church, in our families and in our neighborhoods. I bet you know one, too.

B. The pre-operation screening practices used in most clinics were not robust enough to identify the “high-risk” women found in post-abortion recovery groups like Rachel’s Vineyard and Silent No More.

C. Academia has produced some solid scholarly work about the subject of identifying high-risk patients. Visit http://www.abortionfacts.com/reardon/high_risk_abortion_patients.asp for details.

Abortion has been legal for nearly 40 years. It’s time for the debate to go beyond legal vs. illegal to safe vs. unsafe. Legal abortion does not automatically mean safe abortion any more than legal investments are automatically safe investments. Unsafe, under-regulated, unwanted, forced, coerced, emotionally devastating and ultimately regretted abortions performed at seedy, unprofessional dives happen far too often. They can be eliminated by establishing sensible standard of care expectations. Such standards must be established by statute because the overall standard of care in abortion clinics serving the poor is too low.

Rockford, this is a serious public health issue, not a political football. If the Rockford clinic reopens, the Rockford City Council must figure out how to regulate it properly.

Jay Ware is a Rockford resident.

From the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue

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