News Abortion

First Virginia Clinic Closes as Part of Republican Leaders’ TRAP Quest

Robin Marty

A clinic that has seen women walk through its doors for four decades is being shuttered due to a new law forcing it to either rebuild its facilities or close.

Virginia Republicans Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have gotten their way; the state board of health has followed their directives to approve the unnecessary abortion provider regulations proposed by the state legislature, which are meant to close as many abortion clinics in the state as possible. Just a few months later, the effects of that legislation are already being felt.

Hillcrest Clinic has offered safe, legal abortion care for four decades. But now that care will be coming to an end. Hillcrest recently announced it would not be seeking renewal of its license, deciding that the new architectural regulations required by the state—widening hallways, changing the size of rooms, adding specialized sinks and sprinklers—would be too much of a financial burden.

“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” Suzette Caton, Hillcrest’s director, told the Pilot Online. “But I also feel like for 40 years we’ve had the honor of providing compassionate care to the women in Tidewater who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy. The staff upheld what the philosophy of the clinic was, and that was to ensure that women had access to a safe, legal abortion.”

Because it is so early, it’s unclear how many other clinics may follow in Hillcrest’s footsteps. After Pennsylvania passed a similar targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law, the state went from 22 clinics down to 13, and some of the clinics that remained open had to stop accepting patients for periods of time while renovations were completed.

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The clinics that do stay open are likely to see those doorways darkened by abortion opponents. Hillcrest had long seen anti-choice protesters at its building. With the closure, those anti-choice protesters are going to look for a new place to roost. In the past, Hillcrest saw its share of violence, including pipe bombs and arson attempts. But like most reproductive health organizations post-Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, so-called sidewalk counseling—really an attempt to harass patients, staff, and volunteers—has become the daily landscape.

How effective are protesters at changing the minds of individuals seeking abortion care? Given that they protest outside clinics daily, and the birthrate isn’t increasing, it seems fair to say their successes are minimal. But one local activist group has turned the tables, using “sidewalk counseling” techniques, such as filming patients, shouting at them through megaphones, and urging them to talk or pray with them, back on anti-choice politicians and their supporters. Coochwatch, a group of activists opposed to Ken Cuccinelli’s political aspirations, showed up for a local open house celebrating Cuccinelli’s new campaign headquarters for his upcoming run for governor. At the event, Coochwatch used the “sidewalk counseling” techniques on Cuccinelli’s supporters in an attempt to “persuade” them out of their personal decisions to support his run. (See video above.)

The group appears to have been about as successful as most “counselors” are at coercing women out of their choice to terminate a pregnancy once she has made up her mind to do so.

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