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State health department shuts down abortion clinic

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — An abortion clinic has been banned from conducting abortions and the center's license has been suspended because it did not have a backup physician as required by the state, health officials announced Tuesday.

The Alabama Department of Public Health issued an emergency suspension order against Reproductive Health Services on Monday, saying it failed to have its regular doctor backed up by a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital. The department said that "constitutes a danger to public health and welfare."

Health officials are still reviewing records from the clinic's Aug. 2 inspection and a complete Statement of Deficiencies will be given to the clinic within a week, said Rick Harris, director of the department's Bureau of Health Provider Standards.

"We identified a lot of other problems, there were other issues," Harris said Tuesday. "We cannot have an abortion clinic doing procedures without a backup physician, so it wouldn't matter if they had other problems. This one problem is enough to shut them down at least until they get this problem fixed."

Monday's suspension came exactly two months after the Summit Medical Center in Birmingham was permanently closed when it surrendered its license on June 14.

The health department had suspended Summit's operations May 17.

after an investigation found numerous violations, including abortions being performed without a doctor's presence.

The closings of Summit and Reproductive Health leaves Alabama with eight abortion clinics, including one other clinic in Montgomery.

Phone messages left at the Reproductive Health Services clinic were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Harris announced last week that Alabama's rules for abortion clinics would be revised after health officials decided they aren't clear enough. He said then the proposed rule amendments should be ready in about 45 days.

Harris' comments last week came after health officials met with representatives from eight Alabama anti-abortion groups, which have called for more changes following the Summit closure.

John Giles, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, attended that meeting and said Tuesday he was pleased with the latest developments, but not surprised about the violation.

"What's a young lady to do if a doctor flies out of town at the time she has a problem? That happens all the time," he said. "Ladies come out of the clinics saying it looks like a third world operation that has been furnished by a second-hand store. It is a sub-par situation."

Anti-abortion advocates have called on Alabama officials to adopt restrictions like those in Mississippi, which has just one abortion clinic and requires the consent of both parents for minors and a 24-hour waiting period and counseling before all abortions.

Cheryl Sabel, president of the Montgomery chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she agreed that actions should be taken against clinics that don't meet regulations, but worried that health officials were pandering to anti-abortion groups.

"What we need to look at is the partnership that Mississippi had and that relationship is the public health department, the state legislature and these fundamentalist groups that work hand in hand making abortion almost impossible for women without outlawing it outright," she said. "That's what we do not intend to happen in Alabama and we intend to fight against it."

Harris said the department's next step will be to determine its stance on the clinic after officials review the full inspection report. He said that will determine what, if any, actions the department will seek against Reproductive Health Services at a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 18.

Summit surrendered its license before a June 20 hearing where health officials had planned to request that the license be revoked.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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