MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Fierce debates over abortion are playing out in states around the country as some legislatures impose new, strict laws. In North Dakota yesterday, a judge temporarily blocked a new law that would ban abortions beginning around six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat is detectable. And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry recently signed a bill that increases requirements for clinics where abortions are performed, and the doctors who perform them.
Texas is not the only state to pass a law like that one, arguing that it will make abortions safer. NPR's Kathy Lohr examines that claim.
KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Texas is the most recent state to pass restrictions after a lengthy battle and an emotional, 11-hour filibuster by abortion rights activists. Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill last week.
GOV. RICK PERRY: At the end of the day, House Bill 2 makes sure that anyone performing abortions in the state of Texas is doing so in a facility that meets appropriate safety guidelines, and that people there are prepared to handle any emergencies that might occur. That is reasonable.
LOHR: The Texas law bans abortions at 20 weeks. It also requires doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and says clinics must meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers.
State efforts to regulate abortion facilities have intensified since the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia came to light. He was convicted in the death of one woman, and three infants who were born alive. Gosnell ran an illegal practice, and adhered to no state regulations. Yet the case is a rallying point for many who oppose abortion.
KRISTI HAMRICK: If Gosnell's clinic had been held accountable to the kind of laws that regulate medical facilities, that woman might not have died.
LOHR: Kristi Hamrick is a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life. Dozens of complaints were filed against Gosnell, but state officials didn't follow up on them. Hamrick says clinics that perform abortions should meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers.
HAMRICK: When we're looking at abortion surgery, we are looking at something that involves medical equipments, anesthesia - something that involves a medical event. And it should be treated like the medical event the abortion industry claims that it is.
LOHR: But according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion in the U.S., the risk of complications is minimal. Fewer than one-half of 1 percent of patients has a complication that requires hospitalization. Dr. Barbara Levy is with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She says decisions about care should be based on scientific evidence.
DR. BARBARA LEVY: We're solving a problem that doesn't exist.
LOHR: Levy says laws mandating that clinics become surgical centers, create a separate standard of care - one that's higher for abortion than for other common procedures with similar risks.
LEVY: The data support a very safe environment for doing them in an office setting. That's true for giving injections. It's true for cervical biopsies. It's true for colonoscopy. And there's no evidence for a problem.
LOHR: Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas are the states with the strictest clinic rules. So far, at least three clinics in Pennsylvania, and two in Virginia, have closed. Here's why: The specifications for surgical centers include the widths of hallways, the size of janitorial closets, the number of parking spaces, and even the installation of hospital-grade ventilation systems. Alena Yarmosky, with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, says that state's largest abortion provider recently closed because of Virginia's new law.
ALENA YARMOSKY: And we feel that these statewide regulations really were the straw that broke the camel's back. They were just simply unable to locate - relocate themselves into a building that would comply with these regulations.
LOHR: Another effort gaining momentum is regulating doctors who perform abortion. Some states require clinics to have transfer agreements with hospitals, to handle complications. But others are enacting laws that now require doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Emily Horne, with Texas Right to Life, says doctors should follow their patients in an emergency.
EMILY HORNE: And the idea is that there would be some continuity of care; and the doctor that saw her for her abortion would be able to assist, or provide medical expertise and knowledge and background for that woman, if there was a complication.
LOHR: But abortion rights activists say hospitals already accept emergency patients whether or not a doctor has admitting privileges, and hospitals don't have to grant privileges in some states. For example, in Mississippi, they've been unwilling to do so. Dr. Barbara Levy, with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says clinics need an emergency plan, but not admitting privileges.
LEVY: You know, these states that are passing these laws are being driven by politics, they're being driven by ideals; but not by science and evidence.
LOHR: Nine states now require providers to have admitting privileges, but several of these laws are being challenged in court. Meanwhile, dozens of clinics in Texas, and across the country, are figuring out whether they can renovate or relocate, or whether they may have to close.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.