At least 10 of 14 Washington-area abortion clinics, including one in Northern Virginia, will be inspected within the next two weeks under a voluntary inspection program to help insure that the clinics meet minimum medical standards.
Begun in late 1975 by Planned Parenthood and the D.C. Medical Society, because Washington, Virginia and Maryland were among the few places in the nation that had no laws licensing or requiring inspection of such clinics, the two groups approved eight clinics here in 1975. One clinic was inspected and not approved and four clinics declined to participate.
Virginia's chief state medical officer for family planning, Dr. Harold Gabel, has volunteered to conduct the inspections in Northern Virginia this month for Planned Parenthood. In the future he will be required to make such inspections under a new state licensing regulation expected to be approved next month by the Virginia State Board of Health. Under ther proposed regulation Dr. Gabel's office would regularly inspect all of Virginia's half dozen abortion clinics.
The District is now also considering such a licensing law, under study for more than a year and expected to be introduced before the City Council this week. Maryland has had a voluntary inspection program since 1973, similar to Planned Parenthood's and conducted by the state medical society, the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland.
Northern Virginia has two outpatient abortion clinics, Northern Virginia Women's Medical Center in Fairfax, which was inspected and approved by Planned Parenthood in 1975, and the National Health Care Plan, Inc, a new abortion clinic in Reston, which also has indicated it may participate in the voluntary inspection program.
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 the outpatient abortion clinics perform the 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 accreditiong 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. The oldest of them all is Laurel Clinic in the District, run by the self-proclaimed "grandaddy" of abortions, Dr. Milan Vuitch. His 16 arrests ad defiance of the anti-abortion law resulted in its being declared unconstitutional.
The Laurel Clinic was inspected but was 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 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 to 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. His plea came as the trial began and he was faced with detailed affadavits 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 only abortion clinic separate from a hospital that so far has declined to be inspected this year is the Silver Spring Abortion Clinic, 800 Pershing Dr., Silver Spring. It also declined an inspection in 1975.
The outpatient clinic at D.C. General Hospital has declined to participate this year, just as it did in 1975, because doctors there said they did not want additional patients referred to their alrady 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.
The following area abortion clinics have agreed to be inspected by doctors and nurses from Planned Parenthood, the D.C. Medical Society or state medical officials.
In Virginia, Northern Virginia Women's Medical Center in Fairfax and the National Health Care Plan, Inc., in Reston.
In Maryland, Sigma Reproductive Health Center, inspected and approved by Planned Parenthood in 1975; Alternatives Inc, in Silver Spring; and Abortion Associates in Hyattsville.
In the District, all inspected and approved in 1975, New Summit Medical Center; Hillcrest Clinic and Counseling Service; Preterm Center for Reproductive Health, the area's largest clinic; Washington Surgi-Clinic; and the Women's Medical Center.