Health department says it will regulate abortion clinics
Advocates said today they remain skeptical about a commitment made by Maryland's Health Department to come up with stricter rules regulating abortion clinics, saying the department has long ignored the industry.
"I think it is lip service," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican from Cecil and Harford counties, reacting to a letter from the head of Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene detailing a self-imposed timeline for drafting regulations.
In the letter Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein pledged that his agency will spend most of May reviewing how other states oversee abortion clinics and meet with stakeholders, including the Maryland Catholic Conference, which is clambering for tighter state oversight of the clinics. Regulations will be drafted over the subsequent two weeks with a goal of putting out a draft for public comment in July, Sharfstein said.
But Jacobs and others remained doubtful because the agency has had the authority to regulate abortion clinics for nearly two decades, but they said it has done little to ensure that the clinics are safe. Leaders with the Maryland Catholic Conference worried that the state will leave loopholes in the new rules.
“A letter and a promise from DHMH is something, but we still don’t know whether all clinics will be regulated, what level of standards will be applied, and how the Department will monitor compliance,” said Dr. Nancy Paltell, a associate director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Senate Finance Chair Thomas M. Middleton did not favor the legislation, but committee members were moved by stories of women who'd been harmed while undergoing the procedure in Maryland during a hearing. "We do want to make sure that if a woman is going to get an abortion it will be safe," MIddleton said.
He added that he is satisfied that the state's health department will develop comprehensive rules.
The issue was highlighted in the fall after reports that a New Jersey doctor began late-term abortions in Voorhees, N.J. and transported the the women to Elkton to finish the procedure because he perceived that the state's oversight on clinics to be lax.