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.
How 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, and 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 public 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.