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Pa. role on Gosnell disputed

City officials said the state should have checked the clinic. A legislator said Phila. had a role.

Two top Philadelphia officials on Thursday told a state Senate committee looking into regulatory failures related to a "house of horrors" abortion clinic that the state Health Department is responsible for overseeing such clinics and that the city's main role should be to help patients take complaints to the state.

But State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., chairman of the Senate's Local Government Committee, said the city must have some responsibility in regulating abortion clinics, noting that it deals with such issues as prevention of disease, nuisances to public health, building-code violations, and waste pickup. In the case of abortion provider Kermit Gosnell, he said, the city's message to the business was: "We don't care."

"Local oversight must have a prominent role," Eichelberger (R., Blair) said at the hearing at Drexel University. "Local health departments have power to regulate."

The hearing came in response to oversight concerns raised in a gruesome grand jury report in January that charged Gosnell with murder in the deaths of a patient and seven late-term babies who prosecutors say were born alive and killed. The report, which describes filthy and horrific conditions at the West Philadelphia clinic, severely rebuked the state Health Department for failing to shut it down.

Eichelberger, who opposes abortion rights, held the hearing to discuss concerns about local oversight, calling regulation of abortion clinics a "joint responsibility."

But City Solicitor Shelley Smith and Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz said the city's power is limited when it comes to abortion clinics, maintaining that the regulation of such facilities falls under the state Health Department. Schwarz said the city was working to develop better procedures to help people who want to file complaints with the state.

"I can't pull someone's license," Schwarz said. "The state has the authority and the state has the ability to regulate health-care facilities."

Several bills are moving through the legislature that would impose more stringent regulations on abortion clinics in response to the Gosnell case.