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How to close abortion clinics under the guise of women's safety

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The Guttmacher Institute, which researches and compiles data on abortion, reports that since the 2010 midterm elections, legislatures in 24 states passed a record 92 provisions restricting abortion access. In Virginia, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi, new laws mirroring Texas' SB 537 have threatened to shutter most, if not all, abortion clinics in those states by making it too costly for many providers to stay open.

Under SB 537, Texas abortion clinics would be required to meet standards that apply to the state's 416 ambulatory surgical centers, outpatient clinics that provide anything from plastic surgery to endoscopy.  Under the law even non-surgical, drug-induced abortions would be performed at such centers. To stay open, Texas abortion clinics would have to invest in major facility upgrades — most of which deal with room size, hallway width, air ventilation and lighting — and buy costly anesthesia and sterilization equipment.

Deuell and Campbell, both physicians, suggest Texas women suffer from botched abortions in facilities with lax safety standards. “We are trying to minimize deaths that have occurred in abortion clinics,” Campbell, who did not respond to a request for an interview, said in committee.

According to federal data, abortion is among the safest medical procedures in the U.S., some 14 times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term. The Guttmacher Institute states that fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience a complication requiring hospitalization. There are more than 72,000 abortions performed annually in Texas, and no abortion-related deaths have occurred since 2001, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The department would not provide state statistics for abortion-related complications.

“For lawmakers to act like they're responding to some safety issue or demonstrated risk, it's fabricated,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, which operates a surgical center in San Antonio and four other abortion clinics across Texas.

The five abortion facilities in Texas that would meet SB 537's new standards were built in reaction to a 2004 law requiring that abortions after 16 weeks take place in a surgical center. When that law passed, none of the state's abortion clinics met the new standards. It took over a year for the state's first abortion-providing surgical center to open. Four more, including Whole Woman's Health in San Antonio, have opened since.

No abortion clinic would on its own choose to become a surgical center, Hagstrom Miller insists. Complication rates at her San Antonio surgical center are no different than at the organization's  abortion clinics, which would likely close if the new law passes.

“The infection rate, the post-op complication rate, they're exactly the same,” Hagstrom Miller said.

The major difference is cost.

When Whole Woman's Health first considered building a surgical center in 2004, “the lowest estimate I got was $1.4 million,” Hagstrom Miller said. The San Antonio surgical center, which opened in 2010, costs $40,000 more per month to operate than the group's abortion clinics. “I'm still losing hand-over-fist in San Antonio,” she told the Current. “We've run at a loss for 2010, 2011, and 2012.”

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