News Abortion

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.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.