Mixing government and religion in Arizona???
State improperly targets abortion-rights advocate
She believes she was targeted through the false claim because of her work.
Mary Jo Pitzl, The Republic | azcentral.com 6:44 a.m. MST November 12, 2014
Acting on an anonymous tip that turned out to be faulty, state health authorities took the first steps in a process that could have resulted in the unannounced inspection of the home of the executive director of an abortion-rights group.
It took the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona to prompt the Arizona Department of Health Services to back off, because Kat Sabine's home did not meet the state's definition of a health-care facility. But the episode has raised questions about how the agency handles complaints and how it enforces health-care-licensing laws.
"We think it's important for a public agency to not be part and parcel of the harassment," ACLU senior counsel Dan Pochoda said, adding that the Sabine case had undertones of harassment.
Sabine, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona, said she felt "bullied" by the request she received in September from the state.
She was the target of a complaint alleging she was providing services that should have her home classifiedas a health-care facility, which requires state licensing. If she were licensed as such, she could have been subject to the terms of a new state law that allows warrantless inspections of abortion clinics.
"I think I got swept up in this craze about inspecting abortion clinics," Sabine said, adding that NARAL is an advocacy group, not a health-care provider.
What troubled her was that the complaint directed state officials to her home. A simple check, such as via Google Maps, would have quickly confirmed the location was a residence, not a business, she said.
Even more troubling, Sabine said, is that when she told the health department the complaint was targeting her home, the agency persisted. The form the agency wanted her to complete listed exceptions. But even that list was problematic because it left off one of the categories — for advocacy groups, such as hers — allowed under state law.
It took an attorney's intervention to drop the matter, which took five weeks to resolve.
Sabine said that based on the agency's slow response, and the incomplete form, she has little confidence state health authorities will change the way they handle complaints.
"Somebody should put in place a procedure to be sure this doesn't happen again," Sabine said.
The agency issued a statement saying it had closed the investigation and saw no need for further action.
"It is a shame that someone would have used the complaint system to generate a false complaint," the agency's statement read. "The online complaint system is meant to make it easy for the public to quickly let the ADHS licensing division know of true violations of state laws and rules."
The ACLU is now seeking further information from the ADHS about complaints alleging that a particular site is a health-care facility and how the agency has handled those allegations.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com.