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Arizona Abortion Clinic Regulations Finally Go Into Effect

After more than ten years of litigation and desperate obstructionism by Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates, Arizona’s comprehensive abortion clinic regulations are slated to go into effect on Monday, November 1.  The regulations were first enacted in 1999 following a tragic and preventable death at a Phoenix abortion clinic.

In April 1998, Lou Anne Herron, a 33-year-old mother with two young children already at home, entered the A-Z Women’s Center in Phoenix seeking a late-term abortion.  An initial ultrasound examination showed that Ms. Herron was 26 weeks pregnant, 2 weeks beyond the limit of Arizona’s ban on post-viability abortions.  Undeterred, clinic staff performed multiple ultrasounds before obtaining one that “estimated” a gestational age of 23 weeks (thus, effectively circumventing the limits of Arizona law).

Relying on the fraudulent ultrasound, Dr. John Biskind performed the dangerous abortion and, in doing so, tore a two-inch hole in Ms. Herron’s uterus.  Medical evidence indicates that, within 10 minutes of the abortion being completed, Ms. Herron was in “serious trouble.”  As she lay in what medical assistants described as a pool of blood that soaked the bedding and ran down her legs, Ms. Herron was heard crying for help and asking what was wrong with her.  But, where was Dr. Biskind? He was eating lunch in the break room, refusing requests to check her condition, and later left her bleeding and unconscious to visit his tailor.  Tragically, after being left in the care of panicked and inadequately-trained medical assistants, Ms. Herron died after bleeding for more than two hours in the abortion clinic’s inadequately-outfitted recovery room.  Tragically, a hospital emergency room was less than five minutes down the street.

Dr. Biskind surrendered his medical license and was ultimately convicted of manslaughter in the death of Lou Anne Herron.  Importantly, Arizona legislators acted quickly to adopt comprehensive, minimum health and safety regulations for abortion clinics operating in the state.  These regulations have come to be known as “Lou Anne’s Law.” 

Arizona’s regulations are based on national abortion care standards promulgated by Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (NAF).  In fact, Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona (PPCNA), the Phoenix-based affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, provided lawmakers with a 3-page “condensed” abortion protocol that was used to draft Arizona’s regulations. 

The regulations were set to go into effect in early 2000, but abortion advocates, lead by the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed a federal lawsuit to stop the enforcement of these common-sense and much-needed regulations.  In effect, abortion advocates claimed that Arizona’s minimum health and safety regulations – regulations drawn from the abortion industry’s own internal standards – should not be imposed on state abortion clinics because they were “unnecessary,” were medically-inappropriate, and would increase the costs of providing abortions (i.e. would adversely impact the “bottom-lines” of abortion providers).

In April 2000, AUL immediately joined forces with state officials to defend Arizona’s regulations against abortion advocates’ cynical and self-serving challenges.  In November 2002, a federal district court in Tucson upheld the constitutionality of the bulk of the regulations, granting the majority of AUL and the State’s motion for summary judgment.  In 2004, the Ninth Circuit reversed a portion of the summary judgment rendered in favor of the State and sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.  Later, attorneys for both sides were able to negotiate a settlement in the case and the regulations were set to go into effect in May 2010.

However, Planned Parenthood then filed a second, desperate challenge in Arizona state court, seeking (among other things) to invalidate a requirement that only a properly-licensed physician may perform an abortion.  Facing fewer physicians willing to perform abortions, Arizona abortion advocates including PPCNA have been actively arguing that nurse practitioners should be able to perform surgical abortions.  On Wednesday, a Maricopa County Superior Court rejected this last-minute challenge, clearing the way for the regulations to finally go into effect on Monday.

Thankfully, Arizona women now have more protection against the all-too-frequent substandard conditions and practices at some abortion clinics – clinics that have become the “true back-alleys” nightmares of abortion mythology.