Outrageous: Virginia Board of Health approves dangerous TRAP regs

By Sandra Sanchez, Advocacy and Communications Intern

In an 11 to 2 vote last Friday, the Virginia Board of Health bowed to pressure from Attorney General Cuccinelli and  approved targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP), burdensome regulations on women’s health centers which threaten to close the majority of Virginia abortion providers as early as 2014. After two years of fighting against these unnecessary and onerous regulations, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our colleagues across the Commonwealth are outraged at the result of Friday’s meeting. Because of the Board’s decision to put politics over safe, legal, and accessible health care,  there will be devastating consequences for the women of Virginia.

virginia-trapHow did we get to this point? As many of you know, we have been fighting these dangerous regulations for more than two years. But even before TRAP was introduced, the idea of targeted regulations on abortion providers has been in Virginia politics for quite some time. Ken Cuccinelli, previous state senator and current Attorney General infamous for constructing & bullying these regulations into law, pioneered the idea of TRAP in 2003. During his time in the General Assembly Cuccinelli introduced TRAP legislation no fewer than four times –  in 2003, 2004, 2005, 444and 2006. After numerous failures, Cuccinelli was openly proud of the passage of TRAP in 2011, stating that “Today, a long, hard-fought battle for women’s health and dignity has finally been won in the State Senate”, and praising the bill as an “Abortion Clinic Safety Bill”. Of course, you and I know that TRAP regulations have absolutely nothing to do with women’s health and safety.  Considering his track record, I don’t trust that Cuccinelli has ever cared about the battle for women’s rights, much less the safety and dignity of the women of Virginia.

After passage of TRAP legislation, the saga continued. During the summer of 2012, the Virginia Board of Health decided to grandfather-in existing clinics from these burdensome regulations, essentially saving them from having to comply with unnecessary and expensive architectural requirements. This move was well within the Board’s authority and was supported by scientific-based evidence as well as decades of precedent: never before have building regulations been forced on existing facilities – particularly regulations that have nothing to do with patient care and are not required of any other outpatient clinic (or even hospital) in the Commonwealth. But of course, AG Cuccinelli was not having that.  Instead of following the advice of Virginia’s doctors, lawyers, and medical experts, he decided to bully and threaten the Board into changing their minds. Unfortunately, it worked. In September the Board caved to pressure and reversed it’s earlier decision by voting to approve politically-motivated TRAP regulations for existing women’s health centers in Virginia.

Since then, the regulations have gone through an executive review process, and — as expected – have been signed by Attorney General Cuccinelli and Governor McDonnell. TRAP regulations also underwent a 60-day untitled3public comment period, where they faced overwhelming opposition from the people of Virginia. Almost 200 Virginia doctors publicly denounced the regulations, including Dr. James “Jef” Ferguson of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, former state health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley, and an additional six Virginia state health officials who represent over 30 years of public health leadership in the commonwealth. And of the nearly 6,000 comments submitted during the public comment period, a vast majority (81%) opposed the regulations. It didn’t matter.

Despite everything, the Board voted on Friday to approve TRAP and subject  women’s health centers to unprecedented and politically-motivated regulations. Because of their vote, the majority  of Virginia’s abortion providers could close as early as next year.

If you’re like me, you’re devastated. The consequences of these regulations are terrifying, and to be frank, make me enraged. Due to TRAP, thousands of Virginia women will lose access to safe and legal abortion care, as well as a wide range of other critical reproductive health services. They’ll be forced to drive dozens of miles to find the essential medical care they need, and may even have to go out of state to access their constitutional right to an  abortion. Let’s be clear: These regulations were designed implemented, and enforced with one purpose and one purpose only — to close Virginia clinics and restrict access to critical women’s health care.  And if you’ve been following the events of the past two years, you know that Virginia has already mandated a forced–ultrasound requirement as well as a restrictive and unnecessary 24-hour waiting period. Combine these demeaning restrictions with newly-passed TRAP regulations,  and you’re left with a dire climate of women’s health restrictions.

It saddens me that the Board of Health decided to put politics over women’s health and vote to close our clinics. It saddens me that even after over 200 doctors and thousands of Virginia residents publicly denounced these regulations, the Board of Health looked over its shoulder at Cuccinelli and voted yes.  But what saddens me the most is that Virginia’s brave, exemplary, and compassionate abortion providers will likely begin to close.  Thousands of women across Virginia will lose access to critical health care — and that is the worst of all.

Stop Attorney General Cuccinelli & help us keep our clinics open!

By Alena Yarmosky, Advocacy & Communications Manager

This Friday, the fate of women’s health and safety in Virginia will be decided.

The Virginia Board of Health will meet on Friday April 12th for its final vote on TRAP regulations, politically motivated and burdensome hospital construction requirements that could force the majority of Virginia’s women’s health centers to close as early as next year.

RSVP to join us in Richmond THIS FRIDAY to stand for women’s health!

Last spring, Virginia women won a huge victory when the Board of Health voted to exempt existing abortion providers from these ridiculous and unnecessary construction requirements. But that wasn’t good enough for Attorney General Cuccinelli, who used every trick in the book – including pressure tactics, legal fiction, and outright lies – to bully the Board into changing their minds.

keep our clinics open

Now, the Board of Health is set to make its final decision on the fate of women’s health in the Commonwealth – and it’s critical that you are there to stand with us!

You and I know the truth: from day one AG Cuccinelli has been pulling the strings behind the scenes, and has used his office to corrupt what should be a scientific and evidence based regulatory process. Now, he is even refusing to resign as Attorney General while running for Governor, a tradition 9 of his predecessors have embraced.

Is Cuccinelli staying on as AG just to make sure TRAP regulations pass…and our clinics are forced to close? We wouldn’t be surprised – and it’s absolutely critical that we’re prepared. Please join us on Friday to fight TRAP and take a final stand in the battle for Virginia women’s health.

Feel free to email me with questions or for more information! I hope to see you there!!

Anti-choice politicians waste no time restricting choice

By Staff

The Virginia General Assembly began this past Wednesday. Only three days in, anti-choice lawmakers wasted no time ignoring the economy, education and transportation and instead working to intrude in the personal, medical decisions of Virginia women and families.

In case you missed it, here is an overview of this week in Richmond.

Allies fight back against birth control ban

Back in November, Delegate Bob Marshall continued his unending quest to interfere in the medical decisions of Virginians when he pre-filed the first bill for the 2012 session. HB 1 brings the “personhood” debate to Virginia and is so extreme it could ban the most effective forms of birth control as well as outlaw abortion in all cases, even when a woman is the victim of rape or incest.

This week, pro-choice allies in the Virginia General Assembly spoke out against the dangerous consequences of HB 1. Delegate Charniele Herring and Senator Donald McEachin called the bill exactly what it is in an article appearing in The Virginian-Pilot:

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, called it “reckless and divisive” and “an abhorrent attack on women’s rights.”

State Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, said the Marshall bill is part of a broad assault on abortion rights by Republicans at the state and federal levels, noting that some GOP presidential contenders have expressed sympathy for such measures.

We want to send a shout out to our allies, especially Delegate Herring and Senator McEachin for speaking out against HB 1. We know most Virginians reject Delegate Marshall’s dangerous proposal and we will continue getting the word out across the state about this extreme bill. Learn how you can get involved at our “personhood” page.

More obstacles for Virginia women

While NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our allies fight for expanded and affordable access to healthcare for Virginia women, anti-choice politicians create more obstacles to timely healthcare.

Three days into the 2012 session and we already have four anti-choice bills that interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.

In the House of Delegates, Delegate Mark Cole and Delegate Kathy Byron have filed bills mandating women have ultrasounds prior to obtaining abortion care. Both bills require waiting periods between the ultrasound and the abortion procedure (with Delegate Cole’s bill requiring a waiting period of 48 hours). This will be Delegate Byron’s fifth attempt at passing such legislation.

Anti-choice Senators Ralph Smith and Jill Vogel filed similar bills on the Senate side.

Virginia women should have the option of an ultrasound if they request it or if their doctor recommends it. Politicians should not be allowed to put their agenda in the examining room with the doctor and the patient and add yet another financial and logistical obstacle for women seeking abortion care.

We have our work cut out for us this session, but we know pro-choice Virginia is strong. Be sure to keep up with the latest happenings in Richmond on our General Assembly page or on Facebook and Twitter.

Attorney General Cuccinelli: practicing medicine without a license?

By Staff

This weekend, we got more evidence that Virginia’s new regulations singling out abortion providers are about one thing only: a political agenda to eliminate access to safe, legal abortion in Virginia.

On Saturday, Larry O’Dell of the Associated Press released a story titled, “Some medical advisors question abortion rules.” The story focused on the medical professionals and educators who advised the Virginia Department of Health in developing targeted regulations on abortion providers following the passage of S.B. 924 earlier this year.

The point of the story was simple and clear: the regulations now on the governor’s desk awaiting his approval are drastically different than those recommended by a panel of medical professionals and originally drafted by the Department of  Health, in ways that make them excessively difficult for abortion providers to meet and would force many of them to close.

We’re wondering what happened. And we’re not the only ones. One of the medical professionals on the advisory panel expressed his confusion:

Dr. James E. Ferguson II, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Virginia…said the document adopted by the board in September went well beyond what the advisory panel recommended. “I don’t know where they got changed, but ultimately they were different, more stringent and more restrictive – and several of them, at least, unnecessary,” Ferguson said.

Those of us who were at the Board of Health meeting in September saw Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office hijack deliberations in order to make the regulations as far-reaching as possible.

The new article highlights some specific ways Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office worked to turn medical suggestions for targeted regulations that would have at least been related to medical science into an overreaching, ideologically-motivated attack on abortion access. Let’s take a look at a couple medical recommendations Cuccinelli’s office rejected:

Medical recommendation 1: Allow existing facilities to be “grandfathered” in to building requirements.

This would mean that, according to the AP article, existing offices “would not be held to standards that were not in place when they opened.” No other existing medical facilities in Virginia are required to be retrofitted to meet new construction codes.

Ken Cuccinelli’s view: “New strict building standards – which cover things like hallway widths and covered entrances – are mandated by state law.”

Medical advice: Rejected.

Medical recommendation 2: Limit regulations to offices providing surgical abortion and exempt offices that only provide medical abortion.

This would mean that offices offering medication abortion would not be subject to the same strict building requirements as an office providing surgery — a commonsense exception that would have excluded providers that do not even do surgical procedures from having to adhere to hospital-style regulations.

Ken Cuccinelli’s view: “State law makes no distinction between medical and surgical abortions so the board can’t either.”

Medical advice: Rejected

The bottom line: Attorney General Cuccinelli’s office continues overreaching to push these regulations to their most extreme possible form, disregarding sound medical science and the expertise of health professionals in his pursuit of a backdoor ban on access to abortion in Virginia.

If you haven’t yet, contact Governor McDonnell or write a  letter to the editor of your local paper to express your concern about anti-choice ideology trumping sound medical science and women’s healthcare needs in the crafting of these regulations.

Thank you Senator Houck

By staff

Sadly, we just learned that pro-choice Senator Edd Houck, who has served in the Virginia state Senate for nearly three decades, has conceded the race for state Senate District 17.

During his time in the state General Assembly and as chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Health, Senator Houck has been 100-percent pro-choice and an adamant champion for the rights and health of all Virginia women.

Thank you Senator Houck for all you have done to protect reproductive health and rights during your years of service.

What does yesterday’s election mean for choice?

By staff

Yesterday was one of the biggest elections for choice in Virginia in the past few years.

From 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. voters across the state went to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats.

At stake this year was the state Senate, which is currently mixed-choice. This means that when choice-related bills come to the floor of the Senate, we do not have a reliable pro-choice majority to defeat them. We saw the consequences of this situation in January with a 20-20 tie vote to approve new regulations singling out Virginia abortion providers – anti-choice Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling cast the deciding vote to approve the bill and Virginia now faces the strictest abortion regulations in the country. (PDF)

So where does yesterday’s election leave us?

As of this posting, one key Senate race remains too close to call. In Senate District 17, in the city of Fredericksburg and Orange, Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albermarle counties, staunchly anti-choice candidate Bryce Reeves is unofficially leading dedicated pro-choice champion Senator Edd Houck – by 86 votes. Senator Houck is entitled to a recount.

Whatever happens in Senator Houck’s race, next year’s Virginia state Senate will still not have a reliable pro-choice majority. Senators Charles Colgan (District 29) and Phil Puckett (District 38), who won their reelection bids, are mixed-choice and voted for several anti-choice bills in the 2012 General Assembly session. (PDF)

What is most distressing is what could happen to the Senate Committee on Education and Health where all choice-related bills go.

Currently Senator Houck is the chair of this committee, which has a majority of strong pro-choice champions. The committee is often the last chance in the General Assembly to stop dangerous anti-choice legislation from moving forward. What is uncertain at this point is how that committee could look next year.

The battle for women’s health in Virginia will continue to be hard-fought in the years ahead, and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, our activists and our allies will continue mobilizing and fighting government intrusion of women’s private medical decisions.

On that note, we wish to congratulate NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC’s endorsed candidates who won their races yesterday.

In the House of Delegates, we congratulate:

  • Delegate Mark Keam, District 35
  • Delegate Ken Plum, District 36
  • Delegate David Bulova, District 37
  • Delegate Kaye Kory, District 38
  • Delegate Vivian Watts, District 39
  • Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, District 41
  • Delegate Mark Sickles, District 43
  • Delegate Scott Surovell, District 44
  • Delegate David Englin, District 45
  • Delegate Charniele Herring, District 46
  • Delegate Patrick Hope, District 47
  • Delegate Robert Brink, District 48
  • Alfonso Lopez, District 49
  • Delegate James Scott, District 53
  • Delegate David Toscano, District 57
  • Delegate Betsy Carr, District 69
  • Delegate Jennifer McClellan, District 71
  • Delegate Mamye BaCote, District 95

In the state Senate, we congratulate:

  • Senator John Miller, District 1
  • Senator Mamie Locke, District 2
  • Senator Ralph Northam, District 6
  • Senator Donald McEachin, District 9
  • Senator John Edwards, District 21
  • Delegate Adam Ebbin, District 30
  • Barbara Favola, District 31
  • Senator Janet Howell, District 32
  • Senator Mark Herring, District 33
  • Senator Dick Saslaw, District 35
  • Senator Toddy Puller, District 36
  • Senator Dave Marsden, District 37
  • Senator George Barker, District 39

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC and our activists worked tirelessly in the last few months to protect and elect pro-choice champions. We look forward to continuing to work with our allies in 2012.

Stay tuned for further analysis of what the election results mean for choice over the coming days.

The anti-choice attacks continue

We’re one week out from Virginia’s 2011 statewide elections, and the anti-choice attacks continue.

National anti-choice organizations are focused on attacking state Senator Edd Houck (Senate District 17), and they’re using outrageous smears about Planned Parenthood and other women’s healthcare providers to do it, including racially-charged attacks that disrespect black women’s reproductive decisions.

As we told you last week, Senator Houck is not only 100-percent pro-choice, but he is chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Health – the committee where all choice-related bills go in the Senate. This committee is one of the most important obstacles slowing down the anti-choice McDonnell-Cuccinelli agenda. While every vote in the state Senate is vital for protecting choice, Senator Houck is an especially important champion and advocate for women’s freedom, privacy and health. That’s why anti-choice groups are investing so much time and money in attacking him.

Senator Houck’s District 17 stretches between Fredericksburg and Charlottesville, containing the City of Fredericksburg, all of Orange County, and portions of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albermarle counties. If you or people you know live in this district, make sure they know what’s at stake in this race and that they’re getting out to vote pro-choice on November 8!

With one week to go, we must protect and elect pro-choice champions who will stand up for the women of Virginia. To find out how you can get involved, visit our elections page and spread the word to your friends.

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC staff. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

What will you do now Governor McDonnell?

By: Staff

This past Saturday, hundreds of pro-choice activists gathered in Monroe Park in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

Our message to Governor McDonnell was simple – end the war on Virginia women.

See all the pictures from the event by clicking through to our photoset on Flickr..

We heard from college students, young women, abortion providers, members of the faith community, state elected officials and national activists and organizers.

Carmen Berkley, field director for Choice USA, passionately reminded us that this issue affects everyone in Virginia and across the country:

I’m standing up here for all the young people. For all the people of color. For all the gay people, the lesbians, the queer folks. The differently-abled. Because it is not ok that all of us can be standing out here and there are people up at the Capitol trying to tell us what to do with our bodies. We are sick and tired. I am tired of governors, not just from Virginia, but from Kansas and Mississippi, all the way from Maine to California telling us what to do with our bodies.

Carmen Berkley leads the crowd in raising our voices against dangerous regulations

Two speakers reminded us that, while the majority of Virginians are concerned with jobs, transportation and education, anti-choice elected officials focus on eliminating access to safe, legal abortion.

“The more we talk about jobs the more they pass bills to prohibit the access not only to abortion, but to birth control,” said Eleanor Smeal, keynote speaker and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, summed up the feelings of the crowd:

We’re standing here today because Governor McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli have decided to abuse the regulatory system. This is a dangerous piece of regulation. Governor McDonnell, we say no to extreme ideology. Governor McDonnell, we say no to those regulations that prevent doctors from practicing medicine. Governor McDonnell, we say no to your heavy hand of government interfering with the private decisions of a woman, her doctor and her God.

Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, calls on Gov. McDonnell to end his war on Virginia women.

For the past few months, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health have been working tirelessly to get the word out about new regulations on Virginia’s abortion providers. These regulations were mandated by a law that narrowly passed the General Assembly earlier this year, and the Governor imposed an “emergency” regulation process to create them without many of the usual opportunities for deliberation and public comment. The state Department of Health used this new authority to draft excessive, onerous and medically-irrelevant restrictions that single out abortion providers from among all other medical providers.  The draft regulations, recently approved by the state Board of Health, also do little to protect patient and provider safety and confidentiality. (Find out more about the draft regulations at the Coalition website.)

The regulations now go before Governor Bob McDonnell. If he signs them as drafted, they will be the strictest regulations on abortion providers in the entire country.

Governor McDonnell, pro-choice Virginians — and people across the country — are watching what you do next. Will you stand up for Virginia women or pursue a narrow, political agenda?

Be sure to sign the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health petition today, asking Governor McDonnell not to sign these regulations.

See all the pictures from the event by going to our photoset on Flickr.

For more information, visit the Coalition’s website at http://www.coalitionforwomenshealth.org

Virginia Congressmen stand up to attacks on women’s health

By: Staff

This morning, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia was on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where two Virginia Congressmen stood up to Governor McDonnell’s attacks on women’s health. U.S. Representatives Jim Moran (VA-08) and Gerry Connolly (VA-11) joined with the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health to sign our petition calling for Governor Bob McDonnell to reject new regulations onVirginia’s abortion providers.

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and chair of the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health, began with a rallying cry:

“Gone are the days when we spoke of threats to reproductive freedom,”  said Keene. “Today, those threats are reality. Politics and ideology have taken center stage and sound medical science has been rejected. This leaves the future of women’s health and safety in limbo. But we are here to say we won’t bargain with women’s health and lives. We are here to fight back.”

Tarina Keene speaks before introducing Rep. Moran and Rep. Connolly

The Congressmen then reminded us that these new regulations are nothing more than politically motivated attacks to end access to safe, legal abortion. We have been saying the same thing since anti-choice legislators first proposed the new regulations. (And editorial boards agree!)

After hearing from the Congressmen, two young Virginia women, Pree Sen and Corrina Beall, told the crowd that new regulations designed to shut down women’s health centers would hurt young and low-income women – women who rely on these centers for basic reproductive health care!

The Congressmen then signed our petition calling on Governor McDonnell to reject these regulations. Congressman Moran and Congressman Connolly add their names to over 5000 Virginians who are standing up to protect women’s healthcare.

Congressman Connolly (seated left) and Congressman Moran sign the petition.  Delegate Charniele Herring (far left), chair of the Reproductive Rights Caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates, was also in attendance.

(See our photo album for more pictures of the event.)

Now we take our message to Richmond this Saturday, October 15, for our Rally for Women’s Health.

The message is simple: Governor McDonnell, Virginians and the nation are watching. Will you stand up and end the war on Virginia women?

Learn more about the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.

Pro-choice champions under attack

By: Staff

Just over a month away from the November 8 statewide election in Virginia, anti-choice politicians and groups are pulling out all the stops. Their ultimate goal – to take over the General Assembly and pursue an aggressive campaign to undermine women’s health.

In Senate District 17 in Fredericksburg, long-time pro-choice champion Edd Houck is facing anti-choice challenger Bryce Reeves.

Senator Houck, who has served in the state Senate since 1984, is the chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Health – the committee where bills dealing with reproductive choice end up in the Virginia Senate. Senator Houck is 100-percent pro-choice and has stood up to all manner of attacks on women’s health throughout the years.

Unfortunately, anti-choice groups are doing everything they can to unseat this champion for women’s health.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC are working tirelessly in the coming weeks to protect and elect politicians that will stand up for women, rather than sacrificing women’s health for politics. For a full list of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC’s endorsed candidates, visit our endorsement page.

Make sure you register to vote or update you registration through the State Board of Elections.

Polls are open from 6 AM to 7 PM across the state on Tuesday, November 8. Be sure to head to the polls and cast your vote for General Assembly members who will stand up for the women of Virginia.

For more information, be sure to visit our Political Updates page.

To get involved in electing pro-choice champions, contact info@naralva.org

Paid for by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. Not authorized by a candidate or candidate campaign.