MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has announced major changes that he says will improve clinics where abortions are performed. Last month, a grand jury report detailed horrifying conditions at one Philadelphia clinic. Seven infants and at least two women died there.
As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, the governor fired six state employees who failed to investigate complaints about the clinic and its doctors. And we caution, listeners may find some details in this report disturbing.
KATHY LOHR: 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.
G: bloodstained furniture, dirty instruments and fetal remains scattered around the facility. Gosnell is charged with eight counts of murder, seven babies and one woman who died on the table. According to the report, he delivered babies alive and then severed their spines.
Governor Corbett said yesterday, the Philadelphia clinic continued to operate because state employees weren't doing their jobs.
TOM CORBETT: This doesn't even rise to the level of government run amok. It was government not running at all.
LOHR: 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.
CORBETT: It's not enough to prosecute the wrongdoing. We have to change the culture. That starts here. It starts now.
LOHR: Corbett fired or accepted resignations from more than half a dozen employees from two state departments responsible for overseeing clinics. Laws already exist that should've prevented the deaths and horrible conditions, Corbett said. But agencies failed to act. So he announced new guidelines. Among them, new communications protocols have been set up for agencies that monitor clinics. And 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.
DENISE WILCOX: We're very enthusiastic about this new oversight of the abortion clinics in Pennsylvania.
LOHR: Dr. Denise Wilcox is director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation's Southeast region. She contends previous governors failed to enforce regulations because they supported abortion rights.
WILCOX: This shouldn't be at the discretion of whether a governor is pro-life or not. 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 happen.
LOHR: 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 but 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.
Carol Tracy is with the Women's Law Project.
CAROL TRACY: They inspect themselves, so there's no resistance to that. 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.
LOHR: 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.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Philadelphia.
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