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New rules for Pa. abortion clinics

Gov. Corbett signed legislation requiring tougher standards. Redistricting also got OK.

HARRISBURG - Without fanfare or comment, Gov. Corbett on Wednesday signed into law tough standards for 24 Pennsylvania abortion clinics as well as a Republican-crafted remapping of state congressional districts.

Both bills generated controversy, but the clinic proposal sparked a pitched battle between proponents and foes of abortion rights.

The bill's backers said it would prevent horror stories such as those in a grand jury report about physician Kermit Gosnell's long-uninspected West Philadelphia clinic. Abortion providers warned that the cost of complying with the new rules could put them out of business.

The law takes effect in 180 days and holds clinics to the same safety standards as outpatient surgery centers - such as requiring wider hallways and doorways, bigger operating rooms, and full-time nurses.

The law also requires unannounced inspections of clinics, a mandate that abortion-rights supporters pressed as an alternative to the tougher facility standards that passed the Republican-majority legislature.

Abortion providers say much depends on how the state Health Department decides how to apply the law, which also allows the department to waive the standards.

The department "will accept licensure applications for these facilities and will handle all applications on a case-by-case basis, as we do for any other health-care facility," spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said.

The new map of House districts shrinks the state's total from 19 to 18, and improves Republicans' odds of holding on to the dozen seats they now occupy.

Jan. 24 is the first day for candidates to circulate nominating petitions.

Republicans say the map meets stringent legal guidelines and serves the will of voters by trying to protect incumbents they already picked. Critics say the map lets politicians pick their voters, instead of the other way around.

A new map is required each decade to reflect population shifts measured in the census. Pennsylvania loses a seat because it grew more slowly than the rest of the nation.