Settlement Eases Curbs on Abortion Clinics in Illinois

From Associated Press

A settlement rolling back some Illinois restrictions on abortion clinics bars the state from taking certain steps to limit access to the procedure in the future, a party to the agreement said Friday.

Under the settlement, access to abortions could not be restricted “either by materially increasing the cost of the procedure or materially reducing the number of facilities without resulting in more than a marginal increase in safety,” said Jay A. Miller, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Illinois Atty. Gen. Neil Hartigan and the Illinois ACLU agreed to the settlement Wednesday to resolve a lawsuit by Richard Ragsdale, a Rockford physician who objected to regulations requiring abortion clinics to be equipped and staffed like small hospitals.


The U.S. Supreme Court had been prepared to hear arguments early next month in the case, which some abortion opponents hoped might be used to help overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Clinics that perform abortions on women more than 18 weeks pregnant will still have to comply with the stringent state rules, which are designed to offset the higher risk of ending a pregnancy relatively late, Miller said.

But clinics that perform abortions on women during the first 18 weeks of pregnancy--more than 95% of abortions--will be freed under the settlement from “stupid kinds” of regulations that do not protect patients’ health, he said.

Jerry Bruce, a spokesman for a coalition of anti-abortion groups, called the settlement “unconscionable and unconstitutional” and said heading off a Supreme Court decision on the case was “a total sellout.”

Ragsdale had maintained that the state regulations were a veiled attempt to hinder women’s access to abortion. Illinois had argued that the rules were necessary to protect women’s health.

One requirement stricken under the settlement mandated that patients receive counseling about birth control and adoption and that counselors be people who derive no profit from abortions, Miller said.

Also changed was a requirement that all abortion clinics go through a public hearing process and obtain a “certificate of need” from the state verifying that they do not duplicate similar services in their areas. Clinics performing abortions before the 18th week of pregnancy would be freed from that requirement under the settlement, Miller said.

Dr. Bernard J. Turnock, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Wednesday that state officials hope to resume inspections of abortion clinics next year to make sure they adhere to the proposed new state regulations.

“We’ll . . . be in these facilities four times a year at a minimum to assure their continued compliance,” said Turnock, who noted that officials had been barred from inspecting abortion clinics since 1985, when Ragsdale won a preliminary injunction.