Abortion foes are making a late-session push to allow health inspectors to inspect clinics without a warrant.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said Thursday that abortion clinics are the only medical facilities in the state regulated by the Department of Health Services where a warrant is needed prior to an unannounced inspection. She is working with Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, to end that exemption.
Herrod acknowledged that a 1999 law allowing warrantless inspections was voided by a federal appeals court after being challenged by the Tucson Woman's Clinic. It took a decade of negotiations between state health officials and those who challenged the law to come up with the current rules which permit unannounced inspections -- but only after obtaining a warrant from a judge.
But Herrod said the legal landscape has changed in the last 14 years. That includes Arizona adopting comprehensive abortion regulations that have been upheld by the courts.
Herrod said she believes that eliminates the problems that caused the appellate court to ban warrantless inspections in the first place.
"Every medical facility in Arizona is subject to unannounced inspections by regulators except for abortion clinics,'' she said, "It's a no-brainer to say that abortion clinics should have to abide by the same health and safety process that other medical facilities in our state are required to abide by.''
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, acknowledged that abortion clinics are unique in that unannounced inspections require a warrant. But he said the solution should be for other kinds of health facilities to demand the same kind of protections, including the requirement to prove to a judge there is probable cause to show up without notice, rather than end protections for abortion facilities.
And Howard said abortion clinics are unique because groups like Herrod's have targeted them. He said the need for a warrant is appropriate "given the hostility of some political figures to the services we provide, and the disruption that our patients would face if they were subject to an unannounced inspection for no reason.''
Barto's move comes weeks after the legislative deadline to introduce and debate policy issues in committee.
She acknowledged the requirement for a warrant is nothing new, having been enacted by rule in 2010. But Barto said the issue came to the forefront only recently as the result of the release of an undercover video by the anti-abortion group Live Action taken at the Family Planning Associates clinic in Phoenix.
That video, according to Live Action founder Lila Rose, misleads the woman, a Live Action volunteer, about the procedure and the development of the fetus at that point. Calls to the clinic seeking comment were not returned.
Barto also cited last month's murder verdict against a Pennsylvania abortion doctor.
"We've seen from the Kermit Gosnell trial what abortion clinics will do when they are not properly regulated,'' she said. "I shudder to think that these very crimes may be happening in our own state.''
Howard, however, said the evidence proves otherwise.
He pointed to the 71-page written response given last month by the state Department of Health Services to a public records request by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
It says that in a 5-year period the state has taken only one enforcement action against an abortion facility. And that was based on violation of rules on administration, infection control and expired medications and supplies.
That still leaves the question of why state health officials should need a warrant to inspect facilities where abortions are performed -- but not for any other.
State law says if the health director has "reasonable cause'' to believe there are violations of licensing requirements, inspectors may enter the premises of any health care institution "at any reasonable time'' to inspect. The law also says that application for a license "constitutes permission for and complete acquiescence'' for inspection.
Howard stressed that health officials can show up unannounced at abortion clinics -- but only after getting a judge to conclude there is probable cause.
He said that additional hurdle is justified given the efforts by Herrod's group and others to harass them and put them out of business.
"Hospitals, for example, ambulatory surgery centers, are not under continuously politically inspired assault,'' Howard said.
`The Center for Arizona Policy is not seeking to close down St. Joe's (hospital),'' he continued. "They are seeking to shut down Planned Parenthood and their protestors do seek to interrupt and impose burdens on women getting health care.''
Howard said that is why the federal court in 2010 agreed to allow inspections only with a warrant.
"The judge authorized that settlement in that case out of the recognition that women's health care services, health centers, are subject to a level of hostility that has nothing to do with the quality of their care,'' he said. Howard said the requirement for a warrant ensures there is a real basis for such inspection and not "when it is serving the political motives of an inspector.''
Herrod has never denied her organization's ultimate goal is to make abortion illegal in Arizona. But she said that is irrelevant to the question of unannounced warrantless inspections.
"Center for Arizona Policy is trying to ensure that women considering an abortion have all the facts before they make that decision, and that their health and safety is protected when they walk into an abortion clinic,'' Herrod said. "We are as concerned about the women considering abortion as we are about the lives of the pre-born children.''