Wed February 16, 2011
Around the Nation

Pa. Employees Fired In Wake Of Abortion Scandal

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has announced major changes to two state departments that he says will improve clinics where abortions are performed.

A grand jury report released last month detailed horrid conditions at a Philadelphia clinic, including the deaths of seven infants and at least two women. Corbett fired a half-dozen state employees who failed to investigate complaints against the clinic and its doctor.

The clinic, inside a weathered brick building in West Philadelphia, is closed now. The blinds that cover the windows are askew. The Women's Medical Society primarily served poor African-American women and immigrants who thought they were getting cheap abortions.

Horrid Conditions

The grand jury report on the clinic and its operator, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, came out just when Corbett took office. It detailed filthy conditions: bloodstained furniture, dirty instruments and fetal remains scattered around the facility.

Gosnell is charged with eight counts of murder, including seven babies and one woman who died on the table. According to the report, he delivered babies alive, then severed their spines.

Corbett said Tuesday that the Philadelphia clinic continued to operate because state employees weren't doing their jobs. "This doesn't even rise to the level of government run amok," Corbett said. "It was government not running at all."

No one investigated numerous complaints made over a decade, and the conditions were not discovered until federal agents raided Gosnell's office about a year ago looking for illegal drug activity.

The governor said that's unacceptable.

"It's not enough to prosecute the wrongdoing," he said. "We have to change the culture. That starts here. It starts now."

New Guidelines For State Agencies

Corbett fired or accepted resignations from more than a half-dozen employees from two state departments responsible for overseeing clinics.

Laws already exist that should have prevented the deaths and horrible conditions, Corbett said. But he announced new guidelines because — according to the governor — agencies failed to act.

The guidelines include new communications protocols, which have been set up for agencies that monitor clinics. It will be easier for people to make complaints.

The facilities will be inspected once a year, and they'll get random visits on evenings and weekends. Registered nurses will now be doing inspections, and they'll post the results on the state's website.

Dr. Denise Wilcox, director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation's Southeast region, welcomes the changes.

"We're very enthusiastic about this new oversight of the abortion clinics in Pennsylvania," she says.

Wilcox contends that previous governors failed to enforce regulations because they supported abortion rights.

"This shouldn't be at the discretion of whether a governor is pro-life or not," Wilcox says. "It should be, 'This is the law of the state of Pennsylvania.' It should be enforced, and that's what we'd like to see."

There's disagreement about why the laws were not enforced. But those who support abortion rights say they should be. They say this case is not about abortion providers; it's about a demented doctor who didn't follow the law at all.

Abortion-rights activists say Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation already inspect their clinics at least once a year. "They inspect themselves, so there's no resistance to that," says Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women's Law Project.

"The grand jury pointed that out, and the grand jury also suggested that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania really look to the standards that are in place by Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation," Tracy says.

The Legislature has been holding hearings on proposals to increase clinic oversight, and more bills are expected.

Gosnell is scheduled to appear in court next month to answer the charges against him. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.