Virginia abortion clinics don’t have to comply with the harsh targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) regulations under review by the state, according to a decision passed down by state Attorney General Mark Herring.
His predecessor, virulently anti-choice Republican Ken Cuccinelli, had said the opposite about the TRAP regulations, which abortion access advocates contend threatens to shut down all of the state’s 18 clinics.
The back story: in 2013, Virginia’s then-Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law regulations requiring clinics performing five or more first-trimester abortions per month to conform to the same architectural standards as hospitals. Those standards regulate, among other things, the size of certain rooms and hallways, the availability of public telephones and drinking fountains, and the presence of specific ventilation systems.
The TRAP regulations applies only to abortion clinics, not other outpatient surgical facilities. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, as the law was being written in 2012, ruled that it would apply to all abortion clinics, not only clinics yet to be built. That meant that established clinics would not be grandfathered in, and would have to renovate or risk closure.
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Three of the state’s abortions clinics closed or stopped providing abortion services as a result of the rules.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who won election in November, ordered the state Department of Health to review the TRAP regulations one year after it was pushed through.
“The regulations enacted last year placed unprecedented construction requirements on these facilities, and I am concerned that these new restrictions may negatively impact women’s access to necessary health services,” McAuliffe wrote in his executive directive.
In a report following McAuliffe’s directive, the Department of Health commissioner validated the governor’s concern and recommended that the anti-choice regulations be changed. Any revision could take years, and in the meantime, the regulations are still in effect. That means that abortion clinics in the area technically still have to comply with the TRAP rules.
Each of the 18 clinics in Virginia have waivers exempting them from compliance for the year.
Herring’s decision on Monday changes that by allowing current clinics to essentially hold tight while the rules are amended. Clinics will no longer need to re-apply for waivers after their year of exemption is over.
“The previous administration provided incorrect legal advice to the Board of Health and intervened in a process that is supposed to be driven by medical professionals,” Herring said in a statement. “That inappropriate intrusion produced regulations that would impose a de facto abortion ban in Virginia by forcing many health care facilities to either shut down, leaving thousands of women without access to critical services, or to stop offering abortion services.”
The Board of Health will meet in early June to discuss proposed changes to the TRAP regulations.
Meanwhile, Virginia municipalities have moved forward with their own abortion restrictions. Both Fairfax and Manassas have in the past several years enacted zoning ordinances designed to increase the hurdles in opening or relocating an abortion clinic.