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!!

Statewide poll shows majority of Virginians oppose TRAP

beck research

va coalition for womens health logoThe Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health, which is made up of state and national women’s health advocates and providers and chaired by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia,  commissioned a public opinion survey from Beck Research, LLC on burdensome targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP).  Beck Research LLC then conducted an independent representative phone survey of Virginia adults, aged 18 and older, to determine their feelings on Virginia TRAP regulations.

As you may know, proposed TRAP regulations single out Virginia women’s health centers and force them to comply with onerous hospital-standard construction requirements that are completely unrelated to patient safety — and required of no other outpatient health center in Virginia. If enacted as written, TRAP regulations could shutter the majority of Virginia’s women’s health centers as early as next year.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our colleagues within the Va. Coalition to Protect Women’s Health  have known for quite a while that these regulations are not endorsed by doctors and medical experts in Virginia. However, before these unnecessary, politically-motivated regulations become permanent, we really wanted to understand how the men and women of Virginia feel about them.

Now that the results are in, our understanding is clear:  The majority of Virginians oppose these regulations. And further, the opposition is shared across partisan lines.

Our new survey demonstrates that Virginians strongly oppose changing the building requirements for women’s health care centers that offer first-trimester abortions, the subject of final decision-making by the Virginia Board of Health on April 12. The majority opposition to the new regulations carries across partisan boundaries – most Republicans, Independents and Democrats disapprove of the regulations. Further, an overwhelming majority of Virginians say they trust doctors and medical experts about health care, not politicians (including the Virginia legislature, Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli).

Who Virginians trust on health care regulations, vs. who is making the decisions right now

This survey demonstrates that Virginians want doctors and medical experts, not elected officials, to make medical decisions and set health regulations.  The majority of Virginians (58%) oppose the new building requirements for first-trimester abortion services, compared to 35% who favor them. Three-quarters of Virginians (75%) agree that private medical decisions should be made by women, their families and doctors.  Doctors and medical experts are trusted sources of information on health care in Virginia, while Virginians are reluctant to look to their elected officials for health guidance.

These results are based on a survey fielded February 20-24 among a total of 500 Virginia adults, aged 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 4.4%. The survey employed a random digit dial (RDD) sample and contains landline and cell phone interviews. The margin of error is +/- 4.4%.

  • Virginians do not want elected officials to overstep and prefer that medical experts set medical regulations. Doctors and medical experts are universally trusted about health care in Virginia; 95% of Virginians trust doctors (56% very much) and 93% trust medical experts (51% very much). In contrast, Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Cuccinelli are the least trusted sources on health care in Virginia. Just 41% of Virginians trust the governor and 38% trust the AG; 52% do not trust McDonnell or Cuccinelli very much or at all on health care.
    • Virginians also agree by a wide 69%-to-23% margin that “medical experts should set all medical regulations, including those regarding first trimester abortion” over “elected officials should contribute to medical regulations, especially those regarding first trimester abortion.”
  • By a two-to-one margin, Virginians oppose changing the building requirements for women’s health centers that offer first-trimester abortions. When asked with no explanation of the regulations (see question 7), 46% of Virginians oppose the proposal, including 33% that strongly oppose it.  In contrast, only 22% favor it, including just 11% who strongly favor the proposal. An equal proportion of Virginians are unsure about the proposal; 22% are either undecided or unable to answer the question.
  • A broad coalition of Virginians opposes the proposal from the outset. Democrats, older women (women 50 and over), and African-Americans are some of the strongest opponents, but Republicans oppose the proposal by 24-points and Independents by 13-points (see Appendix A for full results). After additional information explaining the proposal in more detail (see question 8), a majority (58%) of Virginians opposes the measure and 35% support it; just seven percent are undecided or unsure (see Appendix B for question wording). The proposal continues to be opposed by a 23-point margin. At the end of the survey, after arguments for and against the proposal, opposition grows, with 62% opposing the proposal and 31% supporting it.
  • At the conclusion, the proposal remains unpopular across demographic groups and by self-identified partisanship. Democrats oppose it by a wide margin (71% oppose), but a majority of Republicans (57%), Independents (59%), conservatives (57%), and white Born Again Christians (57%) also dislike the proposal.
  • Virginians are not eager to restrict abortion; majority think abortion should be legal. A majority of Virginians thinks abortion should be legal, including 28% who think it should be legal in all cases.  Only 38% think abortion should be illegal and just 15% report that abortion should be illegal in all cases. In addition, Virginians see abortion as a private matter. By a wide three-to-one margin (75%-to-22%), Virginians agree “private medical decisions should be made by a woman, her family and her doctor” over “abortion is bigger than any single woman’s medical decision.”

Want to see the full poll? Check out the official results here!

Virginia Women Trapped by Board of Health Decision

Hi Everyone:

My name is Alena Yarmosky and I am the new Advocacy & Communications Manager with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.  I joined the NARAL VA team two weeks ago, and have loved getting to know all of our amazing volunteers and supporters. I look forward to working with you all in the coming weeks and months!

Unfortunately, it has been a tough few days for us here at NARAL Pro-Choice VA, and for women all over the state. At the Virginia Board of Health meeting last Friday (September 14) the Board of Health voted to subject existing women’s health centers to burdensome and medically-unnecessary TRAP regulations.

These proposed construction requirements (now approved by the Board) have nothing to do with protecting women’s health and safety, and are instead designed to force health centers across the state to close. Renovations to meet TRAP regulations could cost millions of dollars, and are simply not an option for many of Virginia’s health centers. If signed into law, TRAP regulations could force over 15 clinics to shut their doors, and keep thousands of Virginia women from accessing essential medical care.

We have activist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to blame. Cuccinelli has done everything in his power (and many things beyond his legal and constitutional authority) to bully the Board into reversing its June decision and imposing restrictive TRAP regulations. Five Board of Health members caved to his pressure tactics and switched their votes, with a total of 13 out of  15 members voting to put Cuccienlli’s political agenda before medical fact (Jim Edmonson and Dr. Anna Jeng were the only two who stood strong).

Even worse, Friday’s Board meeting was a blatant denial of public comment and the democratic process. Time for public input was slashed in half, and hundreds of pro-choice activists and experts were shut out of the building despite repeated requests to move the meeting to a location that could accommodate all participants.

Unfortunately we can’t be too surprised by the Board’s vote, or by this administration’s blatant disregard for women’s health and rights. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Governor Bob McDonnell have spent their careers putting an anti-choice political agenda before health, safety, and Virginia law. AG Cuccinelli has publicly stated that his goal is to end abortion in Virginia, and his brazen actions over the last three months have shown us just how serious he is.

We may have lost the battle, but the fight for women’s health is just beginning.

In the coming months, we will continue to fight TRAP before it becomes law. But as the state legislative session draws nearer, Virgina women will again find themselves the target of anti-choice legislators determined to play doctor and erode critical access to reproductive health care.

We will face “personhood”, a bill that could outlaw birth control, common fertility treatments, and abortion  – even in cases of rape or incest. We will face attempts to end abortion after 20 weeks, attempts to ban insurance companies from covering reproductive services, and continued attempts to close clinics through endless bureaucratic hoops and bounds of red tape.

We have to fight back! As Advocacy & Communications Manager here at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, fighting for women’s health (through phone banking, canvassing, voter drives and more) is a large part of my job. But we need you to stand with us.

Please email me to sign up to volunteer, or if you’re interested in learning more about NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s plans for the fall. I look forward to working with you all, and continuing our fight for women’s health.

Stop Attorney Gen. Cuccinelli & Urge the Board of Health: Put Medicine Before Politics!

Just when we thought sanity might have returned to Virginia’s government… Govenor McDonnell & Attorney General Cuccinelli are at it again.

Earlier this summer, the Virginia Board of Health voted to amend a key provision of proposed TRAP regulations (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) to exempt existing women’s health centers from burdensome and politically-motivated construction requirements. The amended TRAP regulations (while still posing a serious threat to the privacy and security of patients and providers) were a huge victory for Virginia women.  By amending proposed TRAP regulations to “grandfather in” existing clinics, it is estimated that the Board saved more than twenty women’s health centers across the state from being forced to close their doors.

The Board’s vote was legally sound, constitutional, and medically correct.  But on July 16, Attorney General Cuccinelli announced that he would refuse to certify the amended regulations. His reasoning? According to a letter sent from Cuccinelli to Dr. Karen Remley, commissioner of the Virginia Dept. of Health, in voting to amend TRAP regulations, the Board had “exceeded its authority.”

Reason (and law) show that the Board acted precisely within its authority: Virginia law directs the Board to enact regulations “consistent with the current edition of the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Hospital and Health Care Facilities.” The June 15 decision to amend TRAP (and exempt existing health centers from costly construction requirements) is absolutely “consistent with” the guidelines as written.

Let’s call like it is – Attorney General Cuccinelli rejected the Board’s decision not for any medical or legal reason, but simply because it flew in the face of his anti-choice political agenda. In voting to exempt existing health centers from TRAP regulations, the Board of Health protected access to reproductive health services (including safe abortion) for thousands of women across the Commonwealth. Apparently you can have the constitution, law, and medical community on your side, but dare to protect women’s access to health care? You’re overruled.

Since then, AG Cuccinelli has pulled out every trick in the book to essentially veto the Board’s vote – even though such an action is unconstitutional and blatantly in violation of Virginia law. Now, after months of pressuring the Board to reverse their decision, Cuccinelli is forcing them to meet again and reconsider the proposed TRAP regulations. This time, he hopes to bully the Board of Health into toeing his political line – and putting women’s reproductive health-care back in the line of fire.

We need your help to urge the Board of Health to stand strong against the Attorney General’s bullying! Together, we must take action to stop this administration’s anti-choice agenda before it threatens the health of thousands of Virginia women.

Ways to help:

Looking for more up-to-the-minute information and more ways to get involved? Follow the Va Coalition on Twitter!

Attorney General Wrong to Reject Changes to Regulations for Women’s Health Centers

by Chris Lewis, legal intern:

On Monday, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced that his office would not certify the regulations for first-trimester abortion providers passed by the Board of Health in June.  In a memo sent to Health Commissioner Karen Remley, Mr. Cuccinelli claimed that the board overstepped its authority by inserting a “grandfather clause” that exempted existing facilities from the onerous regulations forced through by anti-choice activists.  However, there is nothing in the law that supports Mr. Cuccinelli’s interpretation, and this is yet another example of the Attorney General using his position to advance his anti-abortion crusade.

The Office of the Attorney General has two responsibilities with regard to the adoption of regulations in Virginia.  The first is to serve as that agency’s counsel and provide legal advice during the promulgation of new regulations.  The second is to certify that those regulations are within the agency’s authority.  In no way should the Attorney General’s personal feelings on matters of policy come into play.  The job of the Virginia General Assembly and the various state agencies is to enact policy.  The job of the Attorney General is to provide legal advice to those entities.  If Mr. Cuccinelli wants to have a say in rule-making, he should have never left the state Senate.

The Attorney General claims that the law requires that all clinics must meet the new regulations.  However, Senate Bill 924–which classified abortion clinics as hospitals subject to regulation–does not include this requirement.  It merely adds clinics to the list of facilities that are subject to regulation by the Board of Health.  The law leaves it to the board (comprised mainly of medical professionals) to use their expertise and knowledge to craft rules that will best serve the Commonwealth.  Using this discretion, the board amended the regulations to include only new and renovated facilities, a move that brought the regulations closer to the intent of the experts who wrote the building guidelines as well as keeping with precedent.

Mr. Cuccinelli’s move flies in the face of previous building regulation in Virginia. Typically, all existing facilities are “grandfathered” in and are not subject to new rules.  In fact, the Attorney General’s representative at the June meeting admitted that new regulations have never   been applied to already-constructed buildings.  With neither the law nor precedent supporting his move, Mr. Cuccinelli is clearly taking an activist position and acting solely in the interest of his personal politics.

With the refusal to certify, the regulations will return to the Board of Health to be addressed again – mostly likely in September.  Be sure to contact the board members to encourage them not to submit to political pressure and to once again put medical science and women’s health ahead of personal politics. You can find out more information and many ways to take action at the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health website.

Most Threatening Requirements Stripped from “TRAP” Regulations by Board of Health

Pro-choice activists attend the Board of Health meeting on June 15, 2012

Some of the pro-choice activists in the audience at the Board of Health’s meeting. (photo credit: Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia)

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.

You can take action by thanking the Board members who voted to amend the regulations and urging them to stand by this change should the regulations return to the Board.

Stop McDonnell & Cuccinelli’s TRAP scheme

Cross-posted from NARAL Pro-Choice America’s BlogforChoice.com.

by Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

Sanity seems to have left the commonwealth of Virginia.

Earlier this year, the country watched with shock and awe as Virginia passed a mandatory ultrasound bill that forces a woman to undergo an ultrasound procedure before receiving an abortion – even if she does not want an ultrasound and even if her doctor thinks it is unnecessary. Now, the Old Dominion – Thomas Jefferson’s commonwealth – is again poised to humiliate women and doctors by shutting off access to safe, legal abortion.

Since the McDonnell Administration and an activist attorney general came into power two and half years ago, the policy making process has been wrought with duplicitous backroom deals and contrived regulations in an effort to ban abortion… and even birth control. So far, they’ve gotten away with it.

This Friday, the Virginia Board of Health will again meet to consider proposed permanent regulations for women’s health centers – what we call “TRAP,” targeted regulations on abortion providers. But don’t be fooled. These proposed regulations have nothing to do with patient care or safety despite what McDonnell and Cuccinelli may purport. They want to force doctors’ offices that provide first trimester abortion – and have been doing so safely for nearly 40 years – to now convert themselves overnight into mini-hospitals, which you may agree is nearly impossible to do! The Board of Health literally is imposing new 2010 hospital construction guidelines on doctors’ offices that have been open and operating for four decades! What this means is that women’s health centers must spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars adding additional toilets, expanding the size of their doors and hallways, increasing treatment rooms to the size of your car garage, making sure there are as many parking spaces as there are beds (even though there are no overnight stays), and expensive, very specific ventilation systems. All this for one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States today, which generally takes fewer than 10 minutes to complete.

Simply put – if regulations are passed as written with these forced building construction requirements, the majority of the state’s abortion providers may be forced to close putting women’s health and safety at risk.

What does this mean for women? Under the proposed permanent regulations, the 20 women’s health centers that provide safe, affordable early abortion care in Virginia will be forced by the government to comply with overly burdensome, medically unnecessary regulations to just keep their doors open – costs that could be so high that health centers are forced to close their doors entirely. This has a detrimental impact on women’s access to affordable healthcare, especially for young, low-income, uninsured or underinsured, rural and minority women who count on women’s health centers around the state for their primary care. If even one health center closes, that could mean higher costs for women who already struggle to access and pay for healthcare.

We need to bring sanity back to the commonwealth of Virginia and end attacks on women’s health and privacy. Without public action or legislative oversight, Gov. McDonnell and AG Cuccinell will have a free pass to implement the most aggressive laws in the country to impede access to women’s health care and abortion. This overreach of power is unconscionable! But it’s not too late.

The regulations are before the Virginia Board of Health this Friday June 15. If approved through the next stages of the regulatory process, these regulations will become law in early 2013. Please ask each of the 15 BOH members to use their medical expertise – not politics- to make the logical decision to stop this insane attempt to impose politically motivated regulations onto abortion providers. The women of Virginia are counting on them.

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.

Calling out the intention of new abortion regulations

We are just over one week out from the September 15 Board of Health meeting in which the Board will vote on new, draft regulations on women’s health centers in Virginia.

Since the Virginia Department of Health issued draft regulations a couple of weeks ago, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has been working hard as part of the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health to make sure women in Virginia have continued access to vital reproductive health care. (For an explanation of the regulatory process check out one of our recent blog posts.)

Now that the regulations are public, people are starting to recognize the detrimental effects the draft regulations could have for Virginia women.

This past weekend, the editorial board at The Washington Post called out the intent of the regulations:

“[I]t is hard to imagine why groups that say they are concerned about women’s health would oppose these standards,” the Virginia Catholic Conference said in a statement.

Actually, it’s not hard to imagine at all, because the standards are not really about safety. They are unjustifiably stringent and could force abortion facilities to shut their doors.

A couple of days later, The Virginian-Pilot editorial board had a similar reaction, noting

New regulations proposed for abortion clinics across Virginia would, indeed, tighten standards for patient safety and require a higher level of care.

They would increase the scope and depth of required record-keeping. They would also reduce Virginians’ access to first-trimester abortions.

The piece in The Virginian-Pilot goes on to challenge the supporters of new regulations:

Supporters’ claims that legislation requiring the new regulations was animated by concern for patient safety aren’t fooling anyone. If that were the motive, the law would have been aimed at raising the level of care at every outpatient surgical center across the state rather than simply those that perform five or more first-trimester abortions each month.

And earlier today, Delegate Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, weighed in on the proposed regulations:

At the same time that regulations to ensure that your water is safe to drink and that air pollution be cleaned up are being challenged as being anti-business and government intrusion, stiff regulations to protect women from unspecified health damages while reducing their access to a legal medical procedure are being advanced.

To learn more about how proposed regulations could harm the health of Virginia women, check out the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.

And be sure to join us if you can at the September Board of Health meeting in Richmond as we ask the Board only to support new regulations based in medicine, not in dangerous politics.