Politics
5:30 pm
Tue April 2, 2013

Agenda Texas: Abortion Regulations Could Close Clinics

Last week we talked about the renewed push to pass a couple bills that would increase state regulations for abortion clinics. Supporters, like Texas Right to Life director Elizabeth Graham, said the measures would make abortions safer.

“When we talk about safe, we find that abortion clinics are not up to par," Graham said. "They don’t have hallways, many of them, that are wide enough for gurneys to fit through. So when there is a botched abortion or an abortion complication, the abortion clinics are ill-equipped to respond to an emergency situation.”

Today we’ll hear from abortion providers who dispute those concerns about safety. Austin gynecologist Christina Sebestyen is on the local Planned Parenthood community board. She points to one bill that would require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital no farther than 30 miles away from their clinic. Sebestyen said the proposal doesn’t make sense because many women are driving 100 miles or more to get to one of the state’s 42 abortion clinics.

“They’re generally going home after their procedure. And wouldn’t necessarily, if they had a complication, be coming to the hospital that was adjacent to where the termination was actually performed," Sebestyen said.

Amy Hagsrom Miller is president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which has abortion clinics in 5 Texas cities. She said hospitals have a financial reason to reject an abortion physician looking for admitting privileges. Hospitals grant privileges to doctors who can bring in business.

“Abortion hardly has any complications, period. We’re not revenue generators for hospitals. We don’t bring business to the hospital as abortion providers," Miller said.

Then there’s the bill that would require abortions to only be performed in facilities that meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center or ASC. Miller has one of the 5 ASC abortion clinics already up and running in Texas.

She gave me a tour of the facility in San Antonio. Once we got past the lobby, the office looked much more like an emergency room than a doctor’s office. Including the bright red line that divides the sterile surgical suites from the rest of the center.

“We’re going to cross the line, we can cross the line because we’re not doing surgery today. So we can go over the red line and into the operating suite because this whole room will be wiped down and washed down before the surgery is done. Because that’s part of the regulations."

Stepping into the surgical suite, the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees. And you could easily hear the sound of the air circulating.

"And you see basically an operating room suite that looks like we’re doing brain surgery right. I mean there’s giant lights on the wall. There’s a big operating room table. There’s a full anesthesia machine. This room is about three or four times the size of a procedure room that would be in an abortion facility," Miller said.

She said ASC’s, with their physical requirements, like wide doorways and separate janitors’ closets, the environmental controls that keep rooms cold and blankets warm to specific temperatures, were created for surgeries.

“Abortion is a procedure. It’s not really a surgery," Miller said.

"There’s not any incisions, there’s not any stitches. The procedure itself takes maybe 5 or 10 minutes. So it’s not like an operation that has multiple physicians where the patients knee is open or her belly is open for a sort of more invasive that this sort of ambulatory surgical center was really devised for.”

And then there’s the cost. Miller says it would have cost her $1.5 million to build the center she leases in San Antonio. And it took her 6 years to find an ASC that was about to close its doors, so she could come in and lease it.

The facility costs her $40,000 more a month to operate than any of her other abortion clinics. She says if the ASC bill becomes law, the cost of upgrading abortion facilities will be too big. And the number of clinics in Texas will drop from 42 to 5.

Got a question or comment? You can e-mail us at AgendaTexas@kut.org and follow us on Twitter: @AgendaTexas

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