News Abortion

North Carolina Clinic Regulators ‘More Aggressive’ This Year Than in Years Past

Robin Marty

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has suspended the licenses of three abortion providers since May; prior to May, only two clinics had been suspended since 1999.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has suspended the licenses of three abortion providers since May. The Charlotte Observer reports that the significant increase in closures in 2013—prior to May, only two clinics had been suspended since 1999—might be an indicator that regulators are becoming “more aggressive” at the same time that debate has raged in the state over an omnibus abortion bill.

According to the Observer, DHHS records show the state’s 16 clinics are inspected periodically and have received violations in the past for a broad range of “deficiencies”—from “poor record keeping to more serious violations,” such as “using a single-dose vial of a narcotic for multiple patients instead of discarding it after the first use.” The violations that led to the suspension of the three clinics, the Observer reports, “are similar to problems that in past years have not led to suspensions, records show. DHHS says the current deficiencies posed imminent threats.”

A timeline provided by the Observer shows that the second clinic to have its license suspended this year, the Baker Clinic for Women in Durham, was inspected and had its license suspended during the same week-long period when HB 695, a Sharia law bill that was amended with a number of abortion restrictions, was unveiled in the state senate. That same week, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said he would veto HB 695, but that he would support a bill to protect patient safety. His chief of staff had already gotten word that the clinic’s license was suspended. The day the Baker Clinic’s license suspension was made public, the governor name-checked the clinic while discussing how the state must “ensure that the health of women is protected.”

The owner of the clinic noted at the time that the violation for which its license was suspended, which had to do with improperly testing patient blood, was already being addressed and that the clinic was hoping to reopen soon.

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The most recent clinic in the state to have its license suspended is Femcare in Asheville. “State Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Asheville, said Thursday that the timing looks political,” the Asheville Citizen Times reported. Fisher told the paper that only five days after the clinic’s first warning about deficiencies, it was told to close down immediately; it had originally been told it would have ten days to comply. “All of these things together don’t add up exactly to this is not politics, this is just following the new guidelines,” said Rep. Fisher.

The clinic’s closure was announced just days after Gov. McCrory signed SB 353, a bill that would allow the DHHS to create new licensing rules for the state’s abortion providers.

Although it is unclear what ambulatory surgical center licensing requirements will be applied to abortion clinics now that SB 353 has been signed into law, it is clear that the new bill will increase the number of DHHS inspectors from ten to 20. Whether the extra inspectors will continue to take an “aggressive” stance in the implementation of the state’s new rules remains to be seen.

News Abortion

Michigan Attorney General Targets Abortion Clinic Over ‘Clerical Errors’

Michelle D. Anderson

Efforts to shut down clinics through legal action also have been seen in Kentucky, where Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has launched a legal attack on a facility that provides abortion care.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a civil lawsuit in an attempt to shut down a Detroit abortion clinic he said is operating without proper licensing.

Filed April 7 in Wayne County, Michigan, Schuette’s lawsuit alleges that Summit Medical Center, an abortion facility located on Detroit’s west side, is operating illegally because it is not owned by a licensed medical professional.

Michigan law requires medical and other professional services be provided through corporations owned by a licensed professional to ensure “that doctors direct care and supervise medical services,” Schuette said.

The facility in Detroit is associated with the national Summit Medical Centers, which has locations in Georgia and Connecticut, and has branches in Nevada, North Carolina, and Alabama, the Detroit Free Press reported.

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The Detroit facility has provided medical service through Summit of Detroit, P.C., a professional corporation. Schuette, a Republican who was elected in 2010, said he planned to “investigate the possible fraudulent formation” of that corporation.

Schuette’s office said it took action after Summit P.C. submitted an annual report to the state last May.

That report, the attorney general said, revealed that David Lipton was Summit P.C.’s sole officer, director, and owner. Schuette charged that the corporation had changed its corporate purpose to “management company,” which was against the law for a professional corporation.

Michigan’s lawsuit also alleged that Summit P.C. falsely certified that Lipton was licensed to provide professional medical services.

The state said it learned that licensed physician, Dr. Alex Pickens Jr., incorporated Summit P.C. in 2011 after a complaint was filed against the clinic in 2014. Schuette later closed that complaint.

The defendants in Michigan’s lawsuit—including Lipton, Summit Medical Center, and the abortion provider’s administrator, Anise Burrell—will not be held liable for the allegations until the court enters a judgment in the case, the attorney general said.

Victor Norris and Laurie Raab, counsel for Summit of Detroit, P.C., Summit Women’s Center of Detroit, Inc., Lipton, and Burrell, said in a statement that Schuette was wrongly seeking to shut down the abortion care facility. Raab and Norris said the conflict boiled down to “clerical errors.”

“Summit of Detroit, P.C. uses the services of a nationally and internationally recognized business service to act as its resident agent and file annual reports with the State of Michigan. Unfortunately, this company filed a 2015 annual report that incorrectly identified Summit of Detroit, P.C.’s purpose, ownership and organizational structure,” the statement said.

Upon learning of the clerical errors, Summit of Detroit, P.C. said it immediately contacted its service provider to have the error corrected to reflect that Summit is indeed owned and operated by a licensed medical professional.

The statement noted that the parties in the lawsuit were cooperating with Schuette’s office to quickly resolve the conflict with the state.

Efforts to shut down facilities that offer abortion care through legal action have been seen in Kentucky, where attorneys representing Gov. Matt Bevin (R) recently asked the state Court of Appeals to shut down the EMW Women’s Surgical Center abortion clinic in Louisville because it was operating without a license.

The Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky affiliate recently suspended operations in the state while a lawsuit filed against it by Bevin’s general counsel is pending. That dispute included allegations that the clinic did not have proper licensing to perform its services to pregnant people seeking abortion care.

Laura Beth Cohen, co-president of the Law Students for Reproductive Justice at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said in an interview with Rewire that attempts to shut down abortion clinics for “non-medical reasons, or reasons that do not concern patient safety or malpractice” are increasingly common nationwide.

Cohen, who said she was inspired to enroll in law school because of the recent spate of targeted regulations of abortion providers, said many providers across the country are forced to shut down or spend copious amounts of money to keep up with regulations that impose requirements beyond what is necessary for patient safety.

The Guttmacher Institute in a state policy briefing published in March noted that 14 states place unnecessary requirements on clinicians who perform abortions and require abortion providers to have some affiliation with a local hospital.

News Human Rights

More Than ‘Just Women’s Issues’ in Moral Week of Action

Emily Crockett

August 26 was Women’s Equality Day. But true to the spirit of Moral Mondays leader Rev. William Barber’s “moral fusion movement,” the discussion of “women’s issues” wasn’t limited to abortion or birth control.

The Moral Mondays movement, which has seen protesters calling for social justice in North Carolina every Monday for nearly 70 weeks, expanded to a full week of actions in 12 states starting on Friday.

Each day since then has featured a specific social justice theme, from education to labor to youth issues, and Tuesday was a fitting day to devote to women’s rights since August 26 was Women’s Equality Day (the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote). But true to the spirit of Moral Mondays leader Rev. William Barber’s “moral fusion movement,” the discussion of “women’s issues” wasn’t limited to abortion or birth control.

“The Moral Mondays movement provides an umbrella of values that we’re all organizing around, not just individual issues,” Tara Romano, president of NC Women United, told Rewire. “We try to present how all of these things are intersecting.”

Take violence against women, for example, Romano said—of course the crisis centers and shelters need to be adequately funded, but if you cut Medicaid and unemployment insurance like North Carolina legislators have done, women who depend on abusive partners for financial support or medical insurance won’t have the resources to leave that situation. 

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The message that economic opportunity is as important a “women’s issue” as any other has been a theme nationwide this year. Democratic Party leaders and President Obama have been pushing a comprehensive agenda that would raise the minimum wage and provide better family leave policies as essential policies that would allow women in particular to be able to participate fully in society.

Two young mothers of color who spoke at Tuesday’s rally in North Carolina focused on how economic insecurity impacted their ability to parent.

Jolanda Ware, 21, said she struggled with being “both mother and father” when her partner left, especially when her unemployment benefits were abruptly cut off and she had trouble applying for Medicaid. And Sheila Arias, a mother of two children, one of whom has special needs, said she understands “the challenge of being both caregiver and breadwinner.”

“North Carolina leaders are sending the wrong message to working parents working hard to better themselves and create economic opportunities for their families,” Arias said, adding that she relied on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which legislators recently cut, to help her make ends meet while she was working on her bachelors degree as a single mother.

“It’s not a giveaway or a handout,” she said, noting that families depended on the state EITC to provide basic needs like shelter, food, and childcare for nearly 1.2 million children in 2012.

Cuts to essential programs like these are inexcusable when the legislature is passing corporate tax breaks, speakers said, and it’s hypocritical to refuse Medicaid expansion for fear that federal funds might run out, while at the same time leaning on federal dollars for childcare in order to trim those expenses from the state budget.

A few hundred people showed up to march around the North Carolina governor’s office Tuesday before handing off a petition, as has been the ritual since Friday. The goal isn’t necessarily to overwhelm with huge crowds, Romano said, but to maintain a steady protest presence for seven days.

That included the weekend, when the governor was out of his office—a Jewish faith leader told the crowd Saturday that they would march even on Shabbat, the day of rest in the Jewish tradition. The rallies have also opened with the blowing of a horn called the shofar, a ceremonial call to action and worship in Jewish faiths.

Rev. Barber’s call to action is profoundly spiritual and moral in nature, and faith leaders have been instrumental in local organizing for the Moral Week of Action and the “Forward Together Movement.” In Ohio, where reproductive health clinics have closed or been threatened with closure by political appointees, attendees prayed and demonstrated for women’s health on Tuesday with a diversity of goals. 

“It was impressive that as we stood in a circle together, we had people from the pro-choice movement as well as those who are not from that point of view, standing together, holding hands, and praying, because there are other issues that affect women and children that are important for us to address that we do agree on,” Mark Diemer, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, told Rewire. 

“Rev. Barber has been really great in pointing out that this isn’t really about liberals or conservatives, or Republicans or Democrats,” Emily McNeill, lead organizer with the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, told Rewire. “It’s about what a moral legislature and a moral public policy looks like.”

Barber often speaks about how Martin Luther King, Jr., grew a movement by organizing locally in the South and encouraging others to do the same. Indeed, most of the states participating in the week of action are southern, but McNeill said “blue states” like New York share in the same struggles.

New York has the nation’s highest level of inequality, school funding has been cut while tax cuts benefiting the wealthy have passed, and political corruption and stalemate plague Albany. “New York has a need to call on our legislature to pass policies that are compassionate and moral and serve all the people in the state, including the poor,” she said.

New York, like other Moral Week of Action states, will host a culminating “Vote Your Dreams, Not Your Fears” rally at its state capitol on Thursday, the final action day and one that will focus on voting rights. 

Voting rights can be a women’s issue too, Romano said. North Carolina’s voter ID law goes into effect in 2016, and women are more likely not to have a valid ID. Name changes from marriages or divorces can be an issue for identification. And when legislators cut down on the number of early voting days, that limits the options of working women who are also responsible for childcare.

The Moral Week of Action is about bringing attention to social justice issues in the short term, but also about bringing more people into the movement, registering more voters, and signing up more canvassers to register more voters. Romano’s coalition, NC Women United, will be working to help women develop local networks and get educated on how to be a citizen lobbyist.

“We are looking at it as a long game,” she said.

Correction: A version of this article said North Carolina’s new Voter ID law goes into effect in 2015. In fact, the law will take effect in 2016. We regret the error.