This story first appeared in Carolina Public Press and is published by N.C. Health News through a content-sharing agreement.
By Jon Elliston
Carolina Public Press
Carolina Public Press’ recent report on state government documents regarding last summer’s suspension of Femcare, Western North Carolina’s only abortion clinic, drew a response from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services yesterday. In it, a DHHS spokesperson again denied that political motives were behind the suspension.
The March 13 article, “Documents disclose political, PR pressures surrounding Asheville abortion clinic’s suspension,” detailed findings in internal records from both DHHS and the office of Gov. Pat McCrory. It showed how key legislators involved in new state legislation tightening restrictions on abortions pressed the department for details about Femcare’s inspection history. It also showed how the McCrory administration mounted a publicity push surrounding the suspension.
Last week, state Rep. Susan Fisher, a Buncombe County Democrat, told WLOS that CPP’s report on the documents “solidifies my belief that politics were at play in the closure of Femcare.”
“The documents exposed [last] week confirm that the laws passed this summer had nothing to do with women’s health and safety — everything to do with restricting access to safe and legal abortion care,” said Suzanne Buckley, executive director with NARAL NC, as reported by the (Raleigh) News & Observer’s state politics blog. “To put it simply, Governor McCrory and the extreme lawmakers in Raleigh are playing politics with women’s lives.”
DHHS spokesperson Kevin Howell took exception to that interpretation of Femcare’s suspension.
Regarding state legislators’ inquiries about Femcare and the clinic’s subsequent suspension, he said in a statement: “Legislators routinely seek information about facilities regulated by DHHS, and we provide them with information accordingly. This is part of a normal process. Nothing about the (Femcare) inspection was politically motivated.”
As for the department’s media outreach before and after Femcare’s suspension, he wrote: “At the time, the governor was being wrongly accused by his political opponents of restricting access to abortions. Even after last year’s survey of Femcare found egregious rules violations, some of the governor’s opponents chose to ignore the potential medical consequences that necessitated the inspections in favor of inciting political passions. Patient care and safety has always been and always will be the primary concern of Governor McCrory and (DHHS) Secretary Aldona Wos.”
According to a news release sent out by the agency last year about Femcare, inspectors found that the women’s health clinic had, among 23 rules violations, failed “to maintain anesthesia (nitrous oxide gas) delivery systems in good working condition, with torn masks and tubing held together with tape.” Read the entire inspection report here.
As Carolina Public Press first reported yesterday, Femcare is now for sale and is slated to close. The Raleigh-based Planned Parenthood Health Systems says it is preparing to provide abortion services in WNC.
Clarification: Carolina Public Press edited the headline to more accurately reflect the range of services provided by Femcare.