Guest post from our legal intern, Chris Lewis:
Sanity and rationality may have, at least for a little while, returned to Virginia’s government. On Friday, the Board of Health voted to approve permanent regulations on women’s health centers, the targeted regulations on abortion providers (“TRAP”) rules that anti-choice forces in the state have been pushing to limit abortion access for Virginians.
While the passed regulations still include serious threats to the privacy and security of patients and providers, the board voted to insert a “grandfather clause” in the bureaucratic and unnecessary building regulations. Without this clause, the state’s abortion clinics would need to either shut down or undergo costly renovations.
Along with our coalition partner organizations in the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health with whom we’ve been working to oppose these TRAP regulations over the past year, many parties deserve thanks for helping to protect women’s rights. Nearly 200 abortion rights supporters showed up early Friday to protest the regulations, with dozens of them bringing hand-made signs. About 50 of the supporters voiced their opinion during the public comment period, pointing to the cost the proposed rules would have, as well as their chilling effect on individual liberty.
Board members Jim Edmondson and Anna Jeng passionately assaulted the blatant unfairness of the regulations that would require clinics—some of which have been open for four decades—to meet new building standards, despite the fact that all other existing medical facilities are exempted from new structural regulations.
Representatives of notoriously anti-choice Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that the law calling for clinic regulation, passed by the General Assembly in 2011, was intended to cover both new and existing facilities, but as Edmondson, Jeng, and fellow board member Paul Clements pointed out, there is nothing in the law’s text that supports this extreme view. Clements added that Virginia did not need to “add regulations that are going to make it more difficult for everybody else that does a good job.”
Edmondson, Jeng, and Clements were joined by John DeTriquet, Steven Escobar, and Catherine Slusher in voting for the final amendment that inserted the grandfather clause and helped ensure that access to abortion will not be totally stripped from Virginia women. DeTriquet, Escobar, and Slusher– appointees of anti-choice Governor Bob McDonnell–deserve special praise for voting in the interest of medical science and not personal politics.
Fellow McDonnell appointees Bruce Edwards, Eric Deaton, Mary McCluskey, Gail Taylor, and Amy Vest, however, could not overcome their political biases and voted to make medical access much more difficult and expensive for Virginians.
Friday’s events do not mean that the board meeting was a total victory for pro-choice advocates, or that Cuccinelli-McDonnell attack on women’s rights is over. Amendments to the regulations that would have ensured the protection of patients and clinic owners failed, potentially exposing them to harassment and radical anti-choice violence. Cuccinelli’s representatives virtually assured that their office would reject the regulations as being in violation of their radical interpretation of the law. If the regulations are rejected, they would be returned to the Board of Health where they would face an uncertain future.
With the regulations potentially being heard again at the next board meeting and the terms of three members expiring at the end of the month, it is as important as ever to contact members and demand that they protect a woman’s right to choose and to put science ahead of politics.