CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Republicans in Congress hoping to push for tighter regulation of the country’s abortion clinics may need to go back to the drawing board.
Spurred by the controversy over Kermit Gosnell, an illegal abortion provider in Philadelphia who was convicted of murder for performing incredibly late-term abortions on low-income women, abortion opponents have been attempting toconflate Gosnell’s crimes with legal abortion providers across the country. Back in May, Senate Republicans called for a widespread investigation into abortion clinics nationwide — and House Republicans followed suit by sending letters to health officials in each state, demanding to see documentation about how each of them monitors and regulates abortion procedures.
The results of that GOP-led inquiry? Abortion clinics are already very well-regulated, and the services they provide are extremely safe.
Lawmakers sent letters to attorney generals and health departments in all 50 states. RH Reality Check obtained 38 of the responses provided by state attorneys general and 31 provided by state health departments — which consisted of thousands of pages of data regarding existing abortion clinic regulations, the results of clinics’ regular health inspections, and the records for any criminal investigations into abortion providers. After sifting through the data, RH Reality Check concluded that “congressional Republicans will find no support for their arguments in favor of new restrictions on abortion care in the evidence presented by the states.”
The analysis of the state documents revealed that abortion clinics are already regularly inspected. Most states inspect them annually and report any incidences of patients being harmed by the care they received there. But there are extremely few of those types of reports. Some states said they weren’t aware of any patient ever being harmed in one of their abortion clinics. It makes sense, then, that states report very few instances of criminal charges being brought against abortion providers. Although Kermit Gosnell’s salacious story captured widespread media attention, RH Reality Check found that the vast majority of abortion providers aren’t being charged with any crimes.
In fact, if there’s any issue with the current state of abortion regulations on a state level, it may be that there’s already too much red tape. RH Reality Checknotes that the complicated web of state-level rules often subject abortion providers to onerous reporting requirements and lengthy paperwork, while their patients typically have to complete a lengthy application to receive care.
Much of this information is already evident from state-level health data. Earlier this summer, as Texas Republicans forced through a package of stringent abortion clinic restrictions that will likely force most of them to close, state health officials testified against the proposed legislation. They pointed out that there was significant evidence that Texas’ abortion clinics were already extremely safe. But it didn’t matter. The GOP-led legislature pushed through the legislation anyway, putting women’s access to reproductive health care in jeopardy as abortion providers brace for massive clinic closures.
Nevertheless, the actual data typically hasn’t made a difference for abortion opponents, who continue to indirectly compromise access to reproductive health care by targeting clinics. Texas certainly isn’t the only state that has recently enacted unnecessary clinic regulations under the guide of keeping abortion patients “safe.” It’s become one of the most popular types of attacks on abortion access at the state level.
Anti-choice lawmakers may continue invoking Gosnell’s name to justify cracking down on abortion clinics — thanks to the emotional outrage surrounding Gosnell and his late-term procedures, it’s been an effective tactic of derailing the conversation about reproductive rights. But elected officials will have to find a source to draw on other than the recent “investigation” into states’ abortion clinics, which didn’t exactly turn up the evidence they were counting on.