More dangerous than the vet? Mass. abortion clinics unlicensed, uninspected

Massachusetts requires the licensing of all hair salons, tanning booths and veterinary offices -- but not abortion clinics.

Referencing the regulation of veterinary offices, Jane Wilcox, a member of Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCFL), queried, "Don't you want to treat a woman who was in a crisis better than a dog or cat?"

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are 40 abortion facilities in the state -- 18 of which are hospitals. The state Department of Public Health reports registering between five and seven abortion clinics. That leaves at least 15 unlicensed, uninspected abortion facilities in the Commonwealth.

MCFL plans to introduce a new bill to the Legislature in January that would mandate licensing of all facilities that perform more than 10 abortions annually. The bill would also require inspections every two years.

In the meantime, MCFL members have worked in communities all over the state to introduce a public policy question that, if passed, would instruct local state representatives to vote for the bill to be filed in January. The non-binding question will appear on ballots in 11 different districts this November, including 6th, 7th, 8th Bristol (Fall River, Freetown), 12th Hampden (Wilbraham, Springfield), 4th, 5th, 12th Norfolk (Braintree, Weymouth, Norwood), 5th Plymouth (Rockland, Norwell, Hanover) and 3rd, 4th, 16th Worcester (Fitchburg, Leominster, City of Worcester).

Pro-Lifers hope this unprecedented move will drum up support for the bill, which they say will protect women's health. They hope to have found common ground among people on both sides of the abortion divide. Signature gatherers reported that many people expressed horror upon learning that there are unlicensed abortion clinics.

Bea Martins, who organized the signature drive in Fall River, said that 30 people gathered signatures in the city's three districts. They spoke at Catholic and Evangelical churches. The support of Christians and God made all the difference, she said.

"The effort in Fall River went very well, by the grace of God," she said. "I was concerned but determined that we would pray and trust in Jesus to bring us the number [of signatures] that we needed."

Martins added that abortion was legalized under the premise that illegal abortions were unsafe for women. She contends that legalization without oversight changed nothing.

Martins highlighted the story of Laura Hope Smith who died at a Hyannis abortion clinic in 2007. Her heart stopped during the abortion procedure. An investigation found that the clinic had no heart monitoring equipment, the blood pressure cuff used was broken and staff members were not trained in CPR.

Eileen Smith, Laura's mother, said that a veterinary clinic would have been a safer option for her daughter. She supports the licensing of abortion clinics and said regular inspections could have saved her daughter's life.

"Licensing is a good step. Anything moving forward is good even if it's incremental," she said. "Let's hope (people in favor of legalized abortion) do care about women like they say they do."

Martins said while she hopes that no woman will choose to abort her child, she does not want to see the women who do perish.

"If she chooses this option, we, sadly, have lost the child. We don't want to lose the mother also because we love them both," she said. "We want the woman to live and, with God's grace and help, come to reconciliation."

Anne Fox, president of MCFL, said that abortions should not take any more victims than they already do. She hopes that the bill will get traction and show pro-lifers that progress on the abortion debate can be made in this progressive state.

"I hope people feel empowered that it is possible to change things," she said.