MD to watch abortion clinics more closely

Abortion clinics in Maryland will have to apply for a state license, provide a 24-hour hotline for patients, show that they have qualified anesthesia providers and develop emergency plans should procedures go awry according to new draft regulations the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released Friday.

Clinics failing to comply would face a $1,000 penalty -- or have their license revoked. The department is seeking public comment on the regulations until mid-August.

In a statement, the health department said the draft regs "reflect the right balance of preserving both safety and access."

The regulations were issued in response to a high-profile incident last fall when a woman was critically injured at an Elkton clinic run by Steven C. Brigham, a man who did not have a license to practice medicine in Maryland. His unorthodox approach involved initiating abortions in New Jersey and instructing patients to drive to Maryland where he completed the surgery.

Revelations about the Elkton clinic led lawmakers and religious groups to call for tighter rules governing the state's approximately 40 abortion providers. But abortion rights activists worried that that overly onerous regulations could shut down most or all clinics in the state.

Both sides are expected to comment on the draft rules.

In drafting the regulations, Maryland's health department researched other times when abortions have gone awry. They found that in the past 20 years the five doctors have been disciplined for harming patients. Three of the 5 incidents stemmed from poor administration of anesthesia.  

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