When the Ohio Department of Health shuttered the Capital Care Network abortion clinic in Cuyahoga Falls this April, anti-choice campaigners claimed state inspectors had discovered “Gosnell-like violations” of state health laws at the facility.
“These deplorable conditions should cause all Ohioans to pause and wonder what else Planned Parenthood and their allies are hiding across the state,” Ohio Right to Life president, Mike Gonidakis, told World Magazine, a Christian publication. Gonidakis, who is also a member of the State Medical Board of Ohio, then asserted, “Capital Care’s violations prove that the abortion industry does not operate as a health provider and is reckless.”
Such is the latest weapon in the anti-choice rhetorical arsenal: Since the arrest, trial, and conviction of rogue abortion provider Kermit B. Gosnell, anti-choice campaigners, publications, and politicians have exploited that case to argue for state and federal laws that further erode the constitutional right to abortion.
Their strategy is to make such laws seem necessary by insinuating that abortion providers are, as a group, engaged in unsafe or unscrupulous conduct. A key tactic is to tar all providers with the crimes of Gosnell, who was convicted in May of three counts of murder and one count of manslaughter, and last week pleaded guilty to federal drug charges for dispensing drugs illegally in his West Philadelphia clinic.
However, a close reading of the state inspection report on the Ohio clinic shows that the problems identified there—while serious—were of a different order of magnitude to anything found at Gosnell’s clinic, according to reproductive health professionals.
“I think drawing that comparison is extremely confusing to people because it’s inaccurate,” said Charlotte Taft, executive director of the Abortion Care Network, a nonprofit membership organization of abortion providers and allies. “To say that this particular clinic has multiple deficiencies, which are not appropriate for a functioning health care practice, is not the same as saying therefore it is similar to Gosnell. These are a world apart.”
Gosnell has been convicted of murdering newborn infants. Evidence at trial indicated that he snipped their spinal cords by stabbing them with scissors through the back of the neck.
The jury also convicted Gosnell of manslaughter in relation to the case of Karnamaya Mongar, a 41-year-old immigrant who underwent an abortion on November 19, 2009, but died from an overdose of anesthesia the following day. Mongar reportedly experienced severe pain during the procedure, and one of Gosnell’s associates—an unskilled worker—testified during Gosnell’s trial that the rogue doctor continued the abortion even as Mongar “turned grey and her breathing slowed.”
According to the grand jury report, women who arrived at Gosnell’s clinic were given potentially lethal drug cocktails by an unsupervised high school student. Unlicensed and untrained workers gave women drugs that were intended to initiate their abortions, and left them—frequently semi-conscious—in a filthy waiting room where seats were stained with blood and the floor was littered with cat feces. Inspectors also discovered jars containing the feet of fetuses, and leaking bags of biological waste that had been stored in the basement instead of promptly removed by a biohazard service.
Nothing in the Ohio report on Capital Care Network remotely resembles these findings. The Ohio report does not allege that any patients were actually harmed at the Capital Care clinic, or that illegal abortions were performed there. And though there were some serious problems with the facility, it did not remotely resemble the putrid conditions found at Gosnell’s clinic.
Some of the most serious problems identified at Capital Care related to an apparent lack of oversight from clinic administrators, reproductive health experts told RH Reality Check.
For instance, the clinic had allowed its pharmacy license to lapse, and failed to document required staff training in infection control measures. Inspectors also found many gaps in the facility’s quality assurance program, according to the health department’s report, and the clinic did not have the required agreement with a hospital to accept transfers of its patients.
The facility had also incorrectly noted the remaining amounts of fentanyl, a potent pain medication, leading departmental inspectors to confiscate six syringes filled with the drug. Key staffers lacked the required qualifications in cardiac resuscitation, and inspectors noted multiple problems with resuscitation equipment. And the clinic could not provide evidence of all patients’ written consent before procedures such as inserting a device to dilate the cervix or drawing blood for use in future blood-type analyses.
Experts told RH Reality Check that these amount to serious violations.
“I’m not going to downplay the importance of these findings,” said Taft. “The violation of these regulations are not necessarily indications that patients were harmed; however, they are indications that the practice was not being conducted according to the standards that women deserve.”
Other shortcomings identified by the Ohio inspectors, though, were unlikely to ever pose a risk to patients. For instance, the clinic was pinged because it could not prove that all patients had been provided with an ultrasound of their fetus prior to their procedure. Laws that require forced ultrasounds have been widely criticized as invasive, medically unnecessary, and a potential source of trauma for patients.
The only alleged violation that echoes the practices found at Gosnell’s clinic was that Capital Care allowed certain controlled substances to be administered to patients by a worker who lacked the required credentials to do so. But the report also states that the worker at the Ohio clinic—who had a medical assistant degree—only administered the medications at the direction of a physician, and there is no indication that a patient was ever harmed as a result of this practice.
Taft said that the comparisons between the situation at Capital Care and the Gosnell case are disingenuous and make a mockery of Gosnell’s victims.
“This is a very poorly run clinic with multiple deficiencies, but I don’t think there is anything that puts them in the same category as Gosnell,” she said.
Capital Care Network once ran up to five abortion clinics—four in Ohio and one in Fort Wayne, Indiana—and the Cuyahoga Falls location is not the only facility that has run into regulatory troubles. In August 2012, the state health department said it planned to revoke the license for a Capital Care clinic in Toledo, but agreed to allow it to remain open after the company paid a $25,000 fine and acquired a hospital transfer agreement, according to documents provided to RH Reality Check by the state.
The owner of Capital Care Network, Terrie Hubbard, did not reply to requests for comment for this story.
As in every medical field, there are occasional cases of true rogues in the field of reproductive health, as RH Reality Check reported last week. For that reason, legitimate abortion providers support meaningful regulations and inspections to ensure they are enforced. But distorting the facts does not serve the goal of ensuring safe abortion access, according to Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
“We want abortion to be legal so that it can be safe, and so that it can be appropriately regulated,” Copeland said. “That’s why you do an inspection: so that if there are paperwork issues or, god forgive, patient safety concerns, it’s uncovered so it can be corrected.”