Abortion clinic ‘horrors’ show need for licensing, activists say
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a drug raid — not an action by the state or city health department — that closed the infamous Philadelphia “House of Horrors” abortion clinic.
After receiving tips about illegal drug sales, agents from the FBI and the Philadelphia district attorney’s office raided the Women’s Medical Society, owned by Dr. Kermit B. Gosnell.
When the search team entered the clinic on Feb. 18, 2010, they discovered conditions later described as “filthy, deplorable, disgusting, very unsanitary, very outdated,” and “horrendous.” They discovered bloodstained furniture and blankets, broken equipment, and bags and jars of fetal parts. The clinic stank of urine from cats that roamed freely.
Further investigations by a grand jury revealed even more. Women died, and so did babies.
“This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women,” said the grand jury report, released in January. “[Gosnell] regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy — and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors.”
Worse yet, the clinic had operated this way for years. State and city health agencies had received complaints, but didn’t take action until Gosnell’s clinic made the headlines. Gosnell and staff members face murder and other charges.
For some in Kansas City, Kan., the case brings back bad memories of another filthy, dangerous abortion clinic. Like the Philadelphia clinic, it, too, continued to operate in the face of official indifference and permissiveness, until a police investigation and subsequent complaints resulted in shocking headlines.
On Sept. 18, 2003, Det. William Howard and another officer of the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department were called to investigate a theft reported by Dr. Krishna Rajanna at his Affordable Medicine Clinic.
They didn’t find evidence of a theft, but they found lots of filth.
“There were dirty dishes in the sink and on the tabletop, trash everywhere, and roaches crawling across the countertops, with a smell of a stench in the room,” Howard testified in 2005 before a committee of the Kansas Legislature. “Frankly, I was reluctant to sit down.”
Among other things, there was evidence of rodent infestation, dried blood on the floor, clutter, and fetal parts stored in Styrofoam cups next to food in a freezer.
Howard was so concerned about what he found that he contacted thenWyandotte County District Attorney Nick Tomasic, along with a clinic worker turned whistle-blower. Tomasic determined no laws had been broken, but he gave Howard contact information for three agencies.
One of the agencies Howard called was the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts. He was met with indifference. The KSBHA knew about Rajanna. They’d issued $1,000 fines twice: in 2000, for improperly dispensing prescriptions; in 2001, for failing to give a blood test.
In early 2004, a pro-life activist made a complaint about Rajanna’s clinic to the KSBHA, but little seemed to happen. However, in April 2004, then-Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline began to press Kansas legislators to pass laws regulating abortion clinics. The Kansas Legislature passed clinic licensing bills in 2003 and 2005.
Despite their veto by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the legislation and the harsh publicity that followed drew the attention of the KSBHA, and it took action against Rajanna in March 2005. That month, a KSBHA inspector visited the clinic twice and found numerous problems. The board temporarily suspended Rajanna’s license, and then revoked it on June 11, 2005.
These “House of Horrors” abortion clinics are not isolated examples, according to Kathy Ostrowski, state legislative director for Kansans for Life.
“It’s something we’ve heard about for a long, long time,” she said. “This is not an aberration.”
In the past, Kansas abortionists have had all kinds of problems, including inadequate facilities and equipment, poor management of drugs, bad record keeping, and poor training of clinic staff. Many of the doctors had checkered pasts and were not specialists in obstetrics and gynecology.
“Down the street from Krishna Rajanna’s clinic was the Aid for Women’s Clinic, which had decades of problems,” said Ostrowski. “This is the clinic that had Doctor [Ann] Krisin Neuhaus working for them, who became the rubberstamp abortionist for abortionist Doctor [George] Tiller, after her practice went belly up in Lawrence, and she had lots of problems.”
Despite actions by the KSBHA, Ostrowski believes that stronger clinic inspection and licensure laws are still needed in Kansas. The current laws and regulations are inadequate, she said.
“Currently, we only have three abortion clinics in the state, all of them in the northeast,” she said.
Planned Parenthood is licensed by the state as an ambulatory surgical center under a state statute, said Ostrowski. It’s supposed to be inspected every three years by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The other two clinics are defined as doctors’ offices and fall under KSBHA agency rules. These clinics are supposed to be inspected every two years, and have to meet minimum safety and sanitation standards.
The problem with the KSBHA is that it’s not proactive and does not do surprise inspections, said Ostrowski. Moreover, it does not share information about its inspection methods or the results of an inspection — whether or not, for example, deficiencies were found and addressed. Finally, its rules do not have the same effect as state statutes.
“The acting director [of KSBHA] told me as a representative of Kansans for Life, the clinics have been inspected twice, but there’s no public access [to those records],” said Ostrowski. “The only times when things go public is when there is a formal disciplinary action — not an agreement. If there’s a formal disciplinary action, it becomes a matter of public record, but it takes a long time to get to that stage.”
The public does, however, have access to records of KDHE clinic inspections, she said.
“In 2005, Planned Parenthood [clinic] had terrible deficiencies all over the place, and Kansans for Life exposed them,” said Ostrowski. “In 2008, they seemed to have done an adequate job in meeting inspections.”
Three years, however, is a long time, and problems could develop, she said.
Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook (R-Shawnee) thinks the political climate has changed to the point where a truly meaningful abortion clinic licensing bill can be passed.
“This year, it’s going to be different,” she said. “Now we have a governor who embraces [pro-life values]. He can see how important it is to enforce the rule of law. . . . We only need a simple majority in each chamber for [a pro-life bill] to become law.”
Pilcher-Cook said she hopes to soon introduce abortion clinic licensing legislation. It will contain elements similar to bills vetoed by Sebelius.