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Law will allow state to inspect abortion clinics without warrants

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PHOENIX – Supporters of a new law that will allow state officials to conduct unannounced inspections of abortion clinics say it will hold abortion providers to standards that already apply to other health care facilities.

“Abortion clinics should not be treated differently than any other health care institution in Arizona,” said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy, which helped craft the legislation signed last week by Gov. Jan Brewer. “I think from a broader perspective we’re almost saying that we hold abortion clinics to a lesser standard.”

At present, it takes a warrant for the Arizona Department of Health Services to inspect an abortion clinic in response to a complaint, a process that Kredit said requires eight to 10 months.

HB 2284, authored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, will enable the Arizona Department of Health Services to inspect abortion clinics without obtaining warrants when officials receive complaints.

“I wanted to protect the health of women, and I didn’t think it was fair that abortion clinic should be at a lower health standard than all other institutions in the state,” she said. “The Department of Health Services’ inspectors do not invade patients’ privacy and they certainly will not be doing so at abortion clinics.”

But Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said there is no evidence that the current system isn’t working and that the law is simply another attempt by conservatives to chip away at women’s reproductive rights.

“Abortion is one of the most private decisions a woman can make, and the state should protect this right to privacy,” she said. “The bill will undermine that.”

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, said that while Gov. Jan Brewer’s six years in office have been bad for women’s reproductive rights a future governor who is even more conservative could use the law to further undermine those rights. He expects the law to face a lawsuit.

“There will no longer be an obligation of DHS to demonstrate to any judge in the state that they actually have a good reason to disrupt patient care,” he said.

The current rules for inspections stem from a 2010 settlement to a lawsuit over a 1999 law that allowed the Department of Health Services to license and inspect abortion providers other than hospitals, including annual inspections and unannounced inspections in response to complaints. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, citing the possibility of unapproved access to patient information.

The rules call for 10 days’ notice before annual inspections and warrants for inspections stemming from complaints.

Since that settlement, state officials have obtained one warrant to search a clinic that provides abortions: Planned Parenthood in Glendale, which was inspected in February, four days before the bill was taken up by a House committee.

Laura Oxley, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the agency is prepared to carry out the law’s provisions and will handle inspections of abortion clinics like any other health care facility.

Jason Walsh, executive director of Arizona Right to Life, said that as long as abortion is legal in Arizona impromptu inspections should be required and clinics should be held as accountable as other health care facilities.

“You’re dealing with the fundamental health of people,” he said. “Who is benefiting ultimately from putting up obstacles to the same exact facility standards? Was it women benefiting or was it Planned Parenthood?”