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NC regulators close 3 abortion clinics in 3 months

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

North Carolina's health agency has closed three abortion clinics in three months for violating health and safety regulations that previously did not cause suspensions.
    
The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Friday its review of Department of Health and Human Services records suggests that while periodic inspections at the state's 16 abortion clinics haven't increased, regulators are taking a more aggressive stance.
    
Prior to a Charlotte clinic's closure in May, the state had suspended just two clinics since 1999.
    
The suspensions in Charlotte, Durham and Asheville correspond with Republican lawmakers' anti-abortion efforts. On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill requiring state regulators to write tougher regulations, last updated in 1995.
    
Abortion opponents hail the closings as proof a crackdown is needed. Abortion-rights supporters argue it proves the system already works.
    
The new state budget doubles the number of inspectors to 20.
    
Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina owns several clinics in the state and is concerned about the sudden closing of the three clinics. Paige Johnson, vice president of external affairs for the group, said it was worked well with inspectors in the past.
    
"Our relationship with the state has always been a partnership ensuring women are safe and cared for respectfully, and not a kind of gotcha," Johnson said. "There's been a flurry of attention from the governor's office and DHHS. What about hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, assisted living facilities? What has changed to make the state focus on abortion providers? Is it about politics?"
    
The newspaper also uncovered emails that show the inspections are being followed by the governor's office and Republican legislators. Emails about the closing of the Durham clinic in July went to McCrory's chief of staff as well as Republican members of a health and human services legislative committee and one of the committee's Democrats. Other Democrats in the committee were not included in the email messages.
    
A DHHS spokesman said the emails were standard practice.
    
"I think it just came as a courtesy email to let us know an action had been taken by the department," said Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, who is on the committee. "I think it means that maybe DHHS is doing its job, or at least reacting to complaints."

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