At least 10 of 14 Washington-area abortion clinics, including six in the District, will be inspected within the next two weeks under a voluntary inspection program to help insure that the clinics meet minimum medical standards.
The inspection program was begun here in late 1975 by Planned Parenthood and the D.C. Medical Society because Washington, Maryland and Virginia were among the few places in the nation that had no laws licensing or requiring inspection of such clinics. The two groups that year approved eight of the 13 clinics in the area; One clinic was inspected and not approved and four clinics declined to participate.
Both the District and Virginia are now in the process of adopting medical clinic licensure regulations. The Virginia State Board of Health is expected to approve clinic licensing next month and the District City Council is expected to introduce a similar measure this week, sponsored by Council member Polly Shackelton.
Planned Parenthood will announce its new approved list of clinics in early May. The list will be distributed to public and private agencies here, which will refer women, wishing information about abortions, to those clinics on the "approved" list.
While outpatient abortion clinics perform the vast majority of abortions in the Washington area - well over 40,000 a year - they are performed also in most private hospitals here as well as in doctors' offices. Hospitals are inspected by city and state health officials and accredited by national medical accrediting commissions.
Most Washington-area abortion clinics have been established since 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion, although several appeared in Washington after lower courts here declared the city's 1901 abortion law unconstitutional in 1969. tThe oldest of them all is Laurel Clinic in the District, run by the self-proclaimed "granddaddy" of abortions, Dr. Milan Vuttch. His 16 arrests and defiance of the anti-abortion law resulted in its being declared unconstitutional.
The Laurel Clinic was inspected but not approved by Planned Parenthood in 1975 "because they didn't like my ceilings - a technical thing they should have taken up with my landlord," Dr. Vuitch said this week. Planned Parenthood declined to discuss the reasons for its disapproval of Laurel in 1975. However, Laurel has again agreed to participate in the voluntary inspection program.
Two of the abortion clinics which refused to be inspected in 1975 have since moved or gone out of business. One, the Columbia Family Planning Clinic, at 1835 I St. NW, was operated by Dr. Robert J. Sherman, who pleaded guilty of negligence last fall in the abortion death of a 16-year-old District girl.
It was one of five abortion negligence suits pending against Dr. Sherman, whose plea came as the trial began and he was faced with detailed affidavits from former employees who said he ran a "filthy - sloppy" abortion clinic where lawyers alleged "an accident was just waiting to happen." Hearings are now being held by the D.C. government to revoke Dr. Sherman's medical license.
The Silver Spring Abortion Clinic, at 800 Pershing Dr., Silver Spring, is the only area outpatient clinic separate from a hospital that has declined to participate in this year's voluntary inspection program. A woman answering the phone at the clinic this week said "I don't know why." It also declined to be inspected in 1975.
The outpatient clinic at D.C. General Hospital also has declined to participate this year, as it did in 1975, because doctors there said they did not want additional patients referred to their already overcrowded public facility. They said they welcomed anyone to inspect the clinic at any time and noted that, like all hospital facilities, it is inspected regularly by city and other medical groups.
However, D.C. General Hospital as a whole lost its accreditation over a year ago, following inspection by the nation's premier hospital inspection group, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals.
Washington Hospital Center, one of the first to open an abortion clinic here in a hospital setting, participated in the 1975 inspection program and was approved. The hospital has yet to commit itself to the inspection program so far this year, according to Planned Parenthood.