LINCOLN — State health inspectors have cleared Dr. LeRoy Carhart of allegations that his Bellevue clinic violated state abortion laws.
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services records show that a pair of inspectors spent three days checking out the Bellevue Health Clinic in early August.
The two found no evidence to support complaints that the clinic was violating Nebraska’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks or that it was improperly handling and disposing of fetal tissue.
However, the inspectors did find three lesser violations of state health clinic regulations, which have since been corrected.
On Saturday, a leading anti-abortion activist called for the Bellevue clinic and other abortion facilities to be required to meet tougher licensing standards.
Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said the clinics should be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers rather than as health clinics.
“This sounds like the bare minimum level of scrutiny,” she said of the August inspection.
But Carhart said the inspection was conducted six months after an earlier state inspection. He said the latest visit found no violations of state law and only three relatively minor violations of regulations.
State records do not show who filed the complaints about Carhart’s clinic.
But the allegations echo concerns raised in the past by anti-abortion groups, led by Operation Rescue.
The group has acknowledged filing complaints about Carhart and the Bellevue clinic previously, including some filed with the State Attorney General’s Office.
Gov. Pete Ricketts was not behind the investigation of Carhart’s clinic, said spokesman Taylor Gage.
The governor did ask HHS to investigate Nebraska’s Planned Parenthood clinics following the release of controversial undercover videos.
The inspections at Planned Parenthood’s Omaha and Lincoln clinics in late August found one violation at each clinic: late filing of statistical abortion reports with HHS.
At the Bellevue clinic, the inspectors looked at several sources to check out the complaints.
To see whether the clinic does abortions later than state law allows, they reviewed the medical files of 31 women who had surgical abortions and two who had medical abortions.
They looked at training documents and records and at facility policies and procedures. They also interviewed clinic staff members.
The report said the clinic was doing ultrasound tests to verify the gestational age of the fetus. A printed copy of the ultrasound picture and the fetal age were part of each woman’s file.
To check on the allegation of improper handling and disposal of fetal tissue, the inspectors looked to medical charts, facility policies and procedure, and staff interviews.
They concluded that disposal of fetal tissue was done in accordance with standards of practice and the protocols of the company hired to deal with the clinic’s biohazardous waste.
The report said the tissue is placed in special bags containing a sterilizing liquid, then stored in a locked area until the biohazard company picks it up.
The only exceptions are when a woman wants to have a licensed mortician pick up the tissue for cremation or burial or when law enforcement asks for tissue to be preserved as part of an investigation into a sexual assault or other crime. In those cases, the tissue is stored in a freezer.
While concluding that they could not substantiate either complaint allegation, the inspectors did find three violations.
The most serious was the facility’s failure to do regular preventive maintenance on several pieces of medical equipment, including two ultrasound machines, one cardiac monitor, two suction machines and three autoclaves, which are used to sterilize instruments.
The clinic also had expired boxes of laminaria, which are used to dilate the cervix, and did not have a standard system for labeling fetal tissue specimens in the freezer.
A follow-up inspection on Oct. 13 found that the clinic had corrected all three violations.
Schmit-Albin said the inspection did not show whether Carhart is providing fetal tissue to researchers.
Carhart said he has not done so since 2000, when the University of Nebraska Medical Center decided not to accept tissue from his clinic.
During the 1990s, Carhart donated tissue to the medical center for research. The medical center ended the arrangement after it became public.
The spotlight has returned to fetal tissue donations because of videos released by an anti-abortion group this year. The videos show Planned Parenthood officials discussing financial terms for donated tissue from aborted fetuses and methods of obtaining tissue.
Planned Parenthood officials have disputed the videos, saying they were deceptively edited, but Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, announced last month that the organization would no longer accept payment for collecting fetal tissue for research.
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