News Column

Perry Family Connection to Abortion Services

July 10, 2013
Gov. Rick Perry (file photo)

The abortion law being debated at the Capitol would require all abortions to take place in an ambulatory surgery center. And it happens that Gov. Rick Perry's sister works for a Dallas-area company that owns such facilities.

The Houston Chronicle reported the tie in its politics blog last week, and it has since been cited by various blogs and online news sources, from Austin's Democratic blog, Burnt Orange Report, to national sites such as Salon and The Huffington Post.

Seeking to tag Perry with a conflict of interest, some abortion-rights supporters have suggested that Addison-based United Surgical Partners International and Milla Perry Jones, its vice president of government relations, might profit from the proposed law.

Not true, company officials said Tuesday. Kristin Blewett, the company's senior vice president of communications, labeled the allegation "as factually incorrect as it is irresponsible."

"It has been falsely suggested that Milla Jones collaborated with her brother or was otherwise involved in the recently proposed legislation requiring facilities which perform abortions to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers," she said.

Gov. Perry's office had no comment. Perry Jones, who couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, is also on the board of the Texas Ambulatory Surgical Center Society, a trade group for the hundreds of centers statewide that provide an array of surgical care. That group didn't return a phone call.

Blewett said United Surgical Partners locations in Texas don't provide abortion services and have no plans to.

Abortion rights supporters say the Texas law could close most abortion clinics because they wouldn't be able to afford to install wider doors, separate air circulation systems and numerous other changes required to qualify as ambulatory surgical centers.

Would that mean women might look to existing surgical centers to start providing abortions?

Not likely, several abortion rights opponents and others said Tuesday. Many companies don't want to perform abortions because of the controversy they stir up. History also suggests that won't happen.

In 2003, the Legislature required abortions at or beyond 16 weeks' gestation to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers. No abortion providers had certified surgical centers at the time, and the existing surgical centers didn't fill the gap.

"No nonabortion provider stepped in to replace abortion clinics," said Theodore Joyce, a Baruch College professor in New York who studied the impact of the 2003 law.

Joyce said he doesn't expect the existing surgical centers to begin offering abortions if the current bill becomes law.

"It's a controversial service," he said. "It's not a lot of money, and you are talking about a lot of regulation."


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