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Virginia Board of Health Passes Nation’s Most Restrictive and Medically-Unnecessary Regulations for Abortion Care

Jodi Jacobson

The Virginia Board of Health today did what most women's health and rights advocates both feared and expected it to do by adopting medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers in the state.

You can find our coverage on TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) regulations in various states here.

The Virginia Board of Health today–and at this point one must use the term “health” loosely at best–did what most women’s health and rights advocates both feared and expected it to do by adopting medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers in the state.  The regulations affect providers of first-trimester procedures, contain what can only be called ridiculous mandates for abortion providers, such as requiring specific sizes of rooms and lengths of hallways which have nothing to do with either patient care or safety.  These “temporary regulations” will go into effect January 1, unless Governor Bob McDonnell suddenly decides he cares more about women than ideology. 

As we reported two weeks back, the “draft” regulations–which were formulated under an emergency process that bypasses public review and comment periods and standard economic assessments for new regulations and is undemocratic on its face–will be put in place for 18 months to 2 years while more permanent regulations are formulated.  The goal of these is clear: To dramatically curtail if not eliminate safe, legal first-trimester abortion in the state of Virginia.

The regulations, clearly political in nature, became blatantly so when Virginia Attorney General, an anti-choice crusader, intervened to pressure the Board of Health to adopt the regulations.

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Moreover, the process continued along a path of shunning democratic process for ideological ends.  According to Huffington Post

Virginia Board of Health member Jim Edmundson tried to introduce a number of amendments on Thursday that would lessen the severity of the clinic restrictions and give some facilities a chance to comply. However, all but one of the amendments were rejected without a vote. For instance, he tried to distinguish between first-trimester surgical abortions and first-trimester medication abortions, so that the regulations would only apply to surgical procedures, but the amendment was not even seconded.

“The board is not even seconding proposed amendments being offered,” said Patrick Hurd, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeast Virginia, who observed the comment and voting process in Richmond on Thursday. “They’re so intimidated by the presence of the attorney general, they’re not even allowing these things to come up for a vote.”

Women’s rights and health groups condemned the move.

In a statement, the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health expressed its deep disappointed that “the Virginia Board of Health chose to ignore sound science and failed to protect patient interests, including access to health care and patient confidentiality, by adopting these medically inappropriate regulations.”

“We were dismayed that the Attorney General’s office unilaterally hijacked the deliberations of the Board of Health so that it could impose its own political agenda.”

A number of medical professionals and others testified against the regulations, including Dr. Howard Jones, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.

No medical association or other public health group supports these regulations because they are not necessary either to ensure patient safety, nor are they required by medical standards of care.  To the contrary, the regulations will make safe, early termination of pregnancy more difficult to get thereby raising the risks for women forced to undergo later terminations because of lack of access by driving up health care costs for patients and driving health providers out of practice.

Simply put, said the Virginia Coalition statement, “rather than implement medically – proven policies, the Board of Health adopted regulations that will put women’s health at risk.”

Women’s reproductive health centers in Virginia as elsewhere provide a full array of safe, affordable preventive health services, including life saving cancer screenings, birth control, prenatal care and abortion care. According to the Coalition:

“The records show our health centers in Virginia already support the highest standards of care for women, yet women’s health centers that provide first trimester abortion care were singled out for more onerous regulations than hospitals and out-patient surgical centers.”

Though permanent regulations are not due for 18 months to 2 years, the temporary regulations are so onerous that clinics will struggle to provide ongoing care and may be forced to close. “Right now, none of our facilities would be in compliance with these regulations,” Paulette McElwain, president and CEO of the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood, told Huffington Post. Planned Parenthood Virginia has five clinics in the state that provide abortions.

“In these difficult economic times, when Virginians need more access to affordable, high quality health care, not less, women and families around the state may now find themselves struggling to find a health care provider,” said the Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.

“We call on Governor McDonnell to protect women’s access and put a stop to politics at patient expense.”

I am not holding my breath.

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