Nearly one year ago, Fr. Terry Gensemer arrived home to find large trash bags left anonymously at his residence in Birmingham, Alabama. Upon inspection, he and his wife were shocked to find the bags were full of medical waste and private patient information from the abortion clinic West Alabama Women’s Center in nearby Tuscaloosa.
CEC For Life wasted no time in contacting our attorneys to discuss how to best get this shocking evidence to the proper authorities.
Working with Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF), Operation Rescue, and a local attorney, we submitted a complaint to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the agency responsible for proper disposal of medical waste, as well as the offices of Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth and Attorney General Steve Marshall.
Two months laters (April 2022), we received this short response from ADEM: “The facility is in compliance. Inspection Report will be submitted.” As far as we know, nothing more was done by this agency.
AG Marshall’s office also sent investigators to interview Fr. Gensemer about the incident. His understanding at the conclusion of those interviews was that, like the ADEM, nothing more would be done. There was some question from the investigator as to whether anyone could prove that the improper disposal was done by clinic staff — even though it seemed obvious that no one except staff could have removed these things from inside the clinic.
We received no response from Lt. Governor Ainsworth’s office.
The one agency we did not contact was the Alabama Department of Public Health. ADPH has a long history of inaction regarding abortion clinic violations and it also seemed ADEM was the appropriate authority.
However, CEC for Life recently discovered that an inspection by ADPH took place at the West Alabama Women’s Center on June 22, 2022 — four months after we submitted letters and complaints to state officials. It is also the only posted inspection of an abortion facility that took place in 2022.
The report’s summary states, “The surveyors received photographed images of item found in a single garage bag, in a residential area in Birmingham, Alabama, from the complainant on 6/15/22 at 9:20 AM.”
CEC for Life is unsure who sent these images to the ADPH, but our best guess is the Attorney General’s office finally took action and asked the ADPH to investigate.
The deficiency report went on to state, “The surveyors requested a list of all procedures performed in the past 6 months…A total of 9 patients were confirmed to have their confidential information discarded without first being shredded.”
The report also includes communication directly from the staff at WAWC under the heading “Plan of Correction.” These statements from staff members clearly admit “private patient information was thrown into trash cans and subsequently collected and put in a dumpster that had its lock broken and was not secure.”
There is no question that this clinic violated both state and federal regulations, and yet there is no indication of any significant discipline, not even a monetary fine or temporary suspension. In fact, even though abortion has since been banned in the state, WAWC is still up and running under the same license type: “Abortion or Reproductive Health Center.”
License type aside, Alabama Code Section 22 states that ADPH can revoke any clinic’s license for “permitting, aiding or abetting the commission of any illegal act in the institution” and “conduct or practices deemed by the State Board of Health to be detrimental to the welfare of the patients of the institution.”
HIPPA violations are definitely illegal and certainly done to the detriment of the patient’s welfare. While CEC For Life appreciates the investigation of this incident, the lack of any further action from the state is frustrating and appalling, especially when there is no question of whether wrongdoing occurred — WAWC own staff admit to the violations.
It is also important to note that this same clinic was responsible for the tragic death of April Lowery, a woman who died from a perforated uterus in May 2020 just hours after leaving West Alabama Women’s Center. Lowery’s death was followed by an unnerving lawsuit filed by a patient named “Jane Stone” (a pseudonym). “Stone” received injuries similar to Lowery and was left to bleed almost to death in a recovery chair while pleading for an ambulance.
In both instances, ADPH investigated the incident briefly but never took any significant action to discipline this clinic or ensure other women would not be subjected to such abysmal care.
Fr. Terry Gensemer of CEC For Life comments, “Even now, when abortion is illegal in the state of Alabama, it seems this clinic still enjoys protection from the Alabama Department of Public Health. West Alabama Women’s Center has killed one woman, brutally injured another and, now, flippantly discarded its medical waste and the personal private information of the women it claims to help with little to no consequence. Exactly which law does this clinic need to break before the ADPH decides to cease looking the other way?”
Another question is how will state officials like AG Steve Marshall and Governor Kay Ivey assure citizens that Alabama’s Human Life Protection Act will be adequately enforced?
If the ADPH is still the only agency providing oversight, it has already shown no proclivity towards disciplining these clinics when women are maimed or killed — why would it do so if a clinic dares to perform an illegal abortion?
It seems that either through legislation or litigation, the Governor and Attorney General need to find a way to ensure the ADPH will do its job, holding clinics that break the law in such egregious ways truly accountable.