The following op-ed was written for “The Breeze” by Sarah Hogg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.
It is no secret that women’s health rights, specifically abortion rights, are heavily debated within the United States. This summer saw two anti-woman, anti-choice wins in the landmark Hobby Lobby and McCullen v. Coakley Supreme Court cases. However, the abortion debate isn’t just in Washington D.C. in the Supreme Court or in Congress—it’s also happening right here in our backyard. Virginian women have dealt with extreme opposition to abortion, birth control, and general healthcare for many years, a battle that was exemplified in 2012 with the passage of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP laws) by the Virginia Assembly. The Virginia Board of Health initially refused to comply with TRAP laws, but ultimately decided to pass the regulations after being pressured, bullied, and even threatened by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
TRAP laws impose superfluous restrictions on clinics that provide abortions and demand that they have the same building standards hospitals do, all under the guise of “women’s safety.” This is a ridiculous notion considering that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures one can have—the procedure will not become safer if it is performed in a larger room or in a clinic with expanded hallways. TRAP laws are just a backhanded way to get abortion clinics to close—the extreme politicians pushing for these regulations only care about eliminating abortion, not women’s safety. Due to these costly new building regulations, some clinics across the Commonwealth were forced to close, and many more threaten to nothing is done about TRAP.
Thankfully, with Governor McAuliffe’s inauguration into office in January, these detrimental and dangerous laws have a chance of being amended or even appealed. In May, the Governor asked for a review of TRAP laws, calling the regulations extreme and punitive, and emphasizing that these laws jeopardize Virginia women’s health and reproductive rights. With the Virginia Board of Health review came a public comment period in which Virginians could voice their concerns about the regulations—and the responses were overwhelmingly pro-choice. Out of approximately 14,000 comments, 10,000 of those requested that the regulations be repealed. After the 45-comment day period ended, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Melissa Levine announced her decision to amend TRAP laws, which is a huge step in the right direction for choice in the Commonwealth.
While Dr. Levine’s choice is certainly worth celebrating, it is important to remember that the battle for choice in Virginia is far from over. Even though Commissioner Levine decided to move forward and amend the laws, this is only the first step. Now, the Virginia Board of Health must vote on whether to accept her recommendations during its December 4th meeting. This great decision still does not erase the ugly history of extreme, anti-woman conservatism in Virginia, and does not make up for the anti-choice laws still on the books in the Commonwealth. It will take many years to undo the damage done by far-right politicians such as former Governor Bob McDonnell and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, without whom TRAP laws may not even exist in the first place.