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State official challenges comment by Asheville abortion clinic owner

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A state official from the Department of Health and Human Services has sent a sharp letter to the owner of an Asheville abortion clinic whose license has been suspended.

On Wednesday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced it had suspended the license for Femcare Inc. The DHHS said its inspectors found "egregious violations of existing rules that revealed an imminent threat to the health and safety of patients" at the Femcare Inc. facility.

Dr. Lorraine Cummings issued a statement for Femcare stating:

"Since the state's last site visit in August 2006 there have been no changes in our operating protocols, but increasing regulations require us to make changes.

"Standards that were acceptable when we were last inspected have changed and, as soon as we were notified of them two weeks ago, we began the process of meeting each one of them.

"We have had no patient infections using our former protocols. We expect to be in compliance soon with the required standards and will return to serving our patients as soon as possible."

The move closes the one clinic in the state that Planned Parenthood said would meet new, tougher guidelines signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.

But on Thursday, Azzie Y. Conley, the section chief of the Acute and Home Care Licensure and Certification Section, wrote Cummings a sharp note. In the note, Conley said Cummings' statement was "inaccurate."

"The survey conducted on July 18, 2013, through July 19, 2013, was conducted as a routine inspection under North Carolina's licensure requirements for ambulatory surgical facilities. ... These regulations have not been revised since 2003. Therefore, it is inaccurate to suggest that increasing or changing regulations led to the closure of your facility."

The letter went on to cite the violations found in the inspector's report.

On Monday, McCrory signed a bill significantly tightening rules about clinics that perform abortions. The law says DHHS may apply the standards of an ambulatory surgical center to abortion clinics.

Critics say the regulations will effectively close most of the state's 16 abortion clinics because only one now meets the standards of an outpatient surgical center. 

"Our understanding is that the only center that currently meets ambulatory surgical center guidelines is Femcare in Asheville," Melissa Reed, vice president for public affairs of Planned Parenthood Health System, was quoted as saying in the Mountain Xpress news. "None of the Planned Parenthood centers in the state currently meet those guidelines."

An ambulatory surgical center costs about $1 million more to build than an abortion clinic, Pratt told lawmakers earlier this month.

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