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.

Understanding the regulatory process

By Kerry

In case you missed it while preparing for Hurricane Irene, the Virginia Department of Health released its much anticipated draft emergency regulations last Friday for women’s health centers providing first-trimester abortions. As NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia executive director, Tarina Keene told Mother Jones earlier this week, the proposed regulations as currently drafted will impose unduly strict, burdensome facility requirements on women’s health centers performing at least five first-trimester abortions a month:

 “It would be challenging for the majority of our facilities to continue offering first-trimester care,” Keene said. “These are designed to really cease first-trimester abortion services in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The regulations are the product of SB 924, which narrowly passed the state Senate and was signed into law by Governor McDonnell last March.

Understanding the process and timeline for these regulations is one of the most confusing aspects of this issue. When singling out women’s health in SB 924, anti-choice lawmakers in Virginia took advantage of a special “emergency regulations” process which enabled them to mandate that the new rules be implemented within 280 days. By utilizing this emergency procedure, the draft regulations can take effect while permanent regulations are still being formulated – a drawn-out process that can take over two years.

A major concern of this fast-track process is the fact that there will be very little time for the public and health care professionals to offer feedback on the regulations before the Board of Health votes on them.  With the Board set to vote during its September 15th meeting, that leaves only a few weeks for concerned citizens and advocates to submit written comments. More troubling still, there will only be one limited opportunity for oral comments before the vote, which will take place at the September 15th meeting just before the Board members consider the draft regulations.

Should the Board of Health approve the draft regulations, the new rules will still be subject to an “executive review” by Gov. McDonnell, the attorney general, the Virginia secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Planning and Budget. Depending on whether they opt for revisions, the emergency regulations will then take effect on or after January 1, 2011 and can remain in effect for a maximum of 18 months.

Fortunately, the public will have at least a bit more room to voice their concerns when it comes to the process for the permanent regulations. Here’s a rundown of how it will work:

1)      The Board of Health will file another “Notice of Intended Regulatory Action,” this time for the permanent replacement regulations, which will be followed by a 30-day comment period. As stated in Friday’s Notice of Intended Regulatory Action for the emergency regulations, the Board plans to hold one or more public hearings on the issue.

2)      After this initial comment period, the Board of Health will file proposed permanent regulations, which will then be followed by a 60-day comment period. The Board also have the opportunity to appoint a special regulatory advisory panel in order to seek out professional opinions on the matter, although, they don’t plan to do so (at least not at this time). During this extended feedback period, the Board is also free to modify the regulations, and if they do so, the public will get another 30 days to offer comments.

3)      Once the comment period is up, the Board of Health will publish a final version of the permanent regulations in the Virginia Register. The publication date marks the start of the “executive review” period for the permanent regulations during which the governor or the committees of jurisdiction in the Virginia General Assembly can file objections to the regulations. If either decides to file an objection, it will be published in the Register, and the Board of Health will then have 21 days to respond.  Should both the legislature and the governor file objections, they can stop the clock – i.e. suspend the date the regulations become effective. If no such objections are raised, the regulations will be implemented at the end of the “executive review” period.

Quite a complex process before all this is said an done. But before we even get to permanent regulations, we have a lot of work ahead with the emergency regulations.

What can you do to stand up for women’s health in light of these politically-motivated regulations that could detrimentally affect access to health care for Virginia women?

Breaking: Statement on draft abortion regulations

Today reminds us just how far we still have to go for women’s equality in the United States.

While we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, women’s equal access to comprehensive health care is in danger.

Late this afternoon, the Virginia Department of Health issued a draft of new regulations on women’s health centers in Virginia.

Be sure to read the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health’s press release with first reactions to the potentially devastating regulations.

And stay tuned for more updates early next week.

Stay safe this weekend!

Decisions are made by those who show up

By Tannis

Today, August 26, is the 30th Anniversary of Women’s Equality Day. This is a day to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, which granted women the right to vote.

Nearly a century has passed since then and a great deal has changed in the landscape of women’s rights. Women have greater financial opportunities than they did 40 years ago: they are attending college in record numbers; they’re leading Fortune 500 companies; and, on the surface, appear to be closing the gap in this centuries-old quest for equality.

But, this year has seen a rapid and aggressive push back against one of the most fundamental tenants of true equality for women — access to legal reproductive care.

What does reproductive care have to do with equality? Without the right to bodily autonomy, without the ability to control what happens to their bodies, women cannot be equal.

Forcing women to carry pregnancies to term reduces them to the function of their reproductive biology and strips them of the authority of their own selves. There is no equality when a woman is prevented from terminating a pregnancy. There is no equality when a pharmacist stands between a woman and her prescribed birth control. There is no equality when the law makes personal, medical decisions for women.

At the turn of the 20th century, women were fighting for the right to vote. As a direct result of their unwillingness to back down, our right to vote is secure. I’d like to be able to say the same for our right to access safe and comprehensive reproductive health care services, as we move through the 21st century. But, today that access is threatened by elected officials all over the country. We must exercise our right to vote and cast those votes for officials who will fight to preserve and expand a woman’s right to comprehensive reproductive services. Our votes will be an act of homage to the suffragists who came before us in the fight for women’s equality.

Update: Draft abortion regulations to be released tomorrow

The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports today that “a draft of emergency Virginia Department of Health regulations that could effectively force the closure of most of the state’s abortion clinics is expected to be made public Friday, a week ahead of schedule.”

As readers are aware by now, these new regulations come after abortion opponents used political maneuvering to amend an unrelated bill during this year’s General Assembly session.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s executive director, Tarina Keene discussed the new regulations with the Times-Dispatch, highlighting the need to protect access for Virginia women:

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said advocates are concerned that the draft regulations will be similar to regulations passed in South Carolina, which she described as “very heavy on structural requirements we consider to be overly burdensome for first-trimester abortion procedures.”

She said the South Carolina regulations also require the full-time staffing of a registered nurse during all hours clinics are open, even on days when abortions and other surgical procedures are not being performed.

“We really hope they will adopt regulations that allow the clinics to continue to offer the care they are currently offering,” Keene said. “And that the regulations are based on health needs and sound medical science, not ideology and politics.”

Please stay tuned to this blog tomorrow as we will let you know what the draft regulations are as soon as we see them.

Additionally, be sure to ‘Like’ the Virginia Coalition for Women’s Health on Facebook and follow @VACoalitionWH for the latest updates on new regulations.

Thank Delegate Hope for being a leader for women’s health

We don’t always get to share good news on this blog, but today we have some!

Yesterday, we learned that the Virginia Department of Corrections will issue a ban on the shackling of pregnant inmates in Virginia.

This success for women’s health is due in large part to the consistent efforts of Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington.

So please take a couple of minutes to send a quick note thanking Delegate Hope for standing up for the health of all Virginia women.

We must continue to stand up for women’s health

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

As we wrote yesterday, women’s health centers in Virginia will soon be subject to new, politically-motivated regulations.

An article in yesterday’s Chesterfield Observer further discussed the upcoming new regulations:

Senate Bill 924 passed the General Assembly earlier this year, requiring all health facilities that perform five or more first trimester abortions per month to meet the same standards as a hospital.

The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell as an emergency regulation, will go into effect Dec. 31. Seen by some as a health issue and others as a way to shut down abortion clinics that can’t afford to meet the requirements, the Virginia Department of Health currently is working on preliminary regulations to give to the State Board of Health on Sept. 15.

Anti-choice officials in Virginia have been undermining women’s health in our state for years. Now they’ve chosen to single out doctors who provide abortion for additional regulation, despite the fact first-trimester abortion remains one of the safest in-office medical procedures and despite the strong safety records of women’s health centers in Virginia.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s executive director Tarina Keene cut to the heart of the issue:

“We are appalled at these repeated attacks on women’s health,” stated Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, via email. “Gov. McDonnell and his legislative cohorts have pursued a singleminded agenda to undercut women’s health in our state. There are no legitimate medical purposes for singling out abortion for further regulation. … [The] new regulations have nothing to do with women’s safety and everything to do with a political attempt to restrict access to reproductive healthcare.”

Elected officials and anti-choice groups who have spent years railing against abortion and attempting to impose additional restrictions on reproductive rights in Virginia now claim they are just trying to make abortion – an already-safe procedure – safer!

But we aren’t fooled. We know this is just another tactic in the overall anti-choice strategy of chipping away at reproductive rights and making it as difficult as possible for women to practically access abortion care.

If there was any doubt about their motives, the same article reminds us of the motivations of the groups that supported SB 924 and are now pushing for medically-unnecessary regulations:

“Olivia Gans, a spokesperson for the Virginia Society for Human Life, says the organization hopes the General Assembly will pursue further legislation to prohibit abortions.

We are pleased that the legislature realizes the seriousness of this issue,” Gans said. “As a mother who had an abortion, I’m deeply concerned … with the number of women who have abortions.”

Rather than working to decrease rates of unintended pregnancy – perhaps by pursuing policies that would provide access to affordable birth control, promote comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education or better support women who choose to parent – anti-choice lawmakers are instead seeking to decrease the number of legal abortions by simply keeping women from accessing quality reproductive healthcare.

We have to stand up and let the Board of Health and the governor know we will not stand for new regulations that are focused on a political agenda rather than the health and wellbeing of Virginia women.

Join us as we stand up for women’s health in Virginia:

As Tarina points out, “If political motives and ideological passions interfere in the regulatory process, then the safety of women’s health may be jeopardized.”

The launch of a new campaign to take on Gov. McDonnell

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

Virginia’s Governor McDonnell is moving onto the national stage as the new chair of the Republican Governor’s Association.

According to Politico:

[Texas Governor Rick Perry will] be joined by Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, who will replace him as chairman of the Republican Governors Association — a perch that is all but guaranteed to boost McDonnell’s political fortunes by providing a national platform and access to a fundraising network that would be useful in a future run for higher office.

The article goes on to describe McDonnell as a “pragmatic conservative”:

In his nearly two years in office, the Virginia governor has carefully positioned himself as a pragmatic conservative who is fixated on job creation (not the social issues that were important to his early political rise) and capable of working with Democrats to get big things done.

However, we know that McDonnell is focused on social issues, especially when it comes to attempts to undermine the health of Virginia women.

In March, Governor McDonnell signed SB 924, a bill that classifies women’s health centers in the state as a category of hospitals, making them subject to new regulations created by the Department of Health. These laws, called “TRAP laws” for Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, single out abortion providers for new, burdensome regulations.

These laws play politics with women’s health and safety.

After Gov. McDonnell signed the bill into law in March, the “emergency” process for new regulations began; a process meant to limit public comment and participation.

These new regulations could have devastating consequences for women throughout Virginia.

The process will move quickly, which is why we are pleased to announce the launch of the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health website!

The website is a great resource for keeping up with the latest activities regarding new regulations, remembering important dates and learning the latest ways you can get involved to stand up for women’s health in Virginia.

After the Board of Health votes on draft regulation in their September 15th meeting, the regulations will be in the hands of Governor McDonnell. He can then make changes before adopting final regulations.

We have to make sure that any regulations are based in medicine, not politics.

So be sure to visit the website and sign the petition today to help us keep the pressure on the Governor to support regulations based in medicine, not in politics!

Join the nearly 700 Virginians asking Gov. McDonnell not to play politics with women's health

He’s back: Dick Black epitomizes anti-choice candidates

We know that women’s health is in jeopardy across the US and in Virginia. Our state General Assembly, along with Governor Bob McDonnell’s administration and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, are working hard to roll back reproductive rights for the women of Virginia.

Instead of looking forward, we are forced to look back. And when we look back, we see a familiar and unwelcome sight from the past coming back into the picture: former House of Delegates member Dick Black.

As reported in yesterday’s Washington Times:

[Dick] Black, a staunchly conservative former state delegate who notably irked colleagues in 2003 by passing out plastic fetuses before a crucial abortion vote, has moved — again — to run in the Aug. 23 Republican primary race for an open Virginia Senate seat in Prince William and Loudoun counties. […]

After winning a House seat in 1998, Mr. Black unsuccessfully pushed for a measure that would have required doctors to administer anesthesia to fetuses prior to later-term abortions and another that tried to effectively ban gay people from adopting children in Virginia.

He did manage to shepherd through legislation requiring parental consent for abortions performed on minors before he lost his seat to Democrat David E. Poisson in 2005.

Yes, that’s right: Mr. Black is infamous for having once sent plastic fetuses to Virginia lawmakers to show his opposition to abortion. He spent most of his time in office pursuing legislation to limit a woman’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care. From 2003 to 2005 alone, he pursued at least 18 bills limiting reproductive choice including bills granting constitutional rights to fetuses, singling out abortion providers for burdensome new regulations and a bill requiring minors provide parental consent before obtaining abortion care. Unfortunately, that parental consent requirement that significantly restricts the ability of young women to access abortion is now law.

Dick Black and anti-choice politicians like him can do a lot of damage to Virginia women’s health and reproductive rights in the General Assembly. After undermining women’s health this past General Assembly session, anti-choice politicians in Virginia are feeling bold and looking to maintain control of the House of Delegates and take control of the state Senate. If they manage to topple the Senate, women’s health in Virginia could be set back for years or decades to come. Dick Black is just one of dozens of strongly anti-choice candidates running for General Assembly all across Virginia this year, not to mention the many anti-choice incumbents running for re-election.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia is fighting back. We’re educating voters about everything that’s at stake in this election and letting them know about candidates’ positions on the full range of issues that encompass reproductive choice.

And most importantly, we’re working to get out the pro-choice vote! Are you ready to vote? The primaries are on Tuesday, August 23rd, with the general election on Tuesday, November 8th. Check out the political updates page on our website to get details about when and where to vote, and share that information with your pro-choice friends, family members and neighbors to make sure they’ll be getting out to vote as well! And keep checking back to get the latest news on how you can help protect women’s health during this integral statewide election.

Three ways to help keep Virginia women out of an anti-choice TRAP

Governor McDonnell and his allies in the General Assembly wage a continuous campaign to undermine access to comprehensive reproductive health care for Virginia women.

That is why we are working with the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health to stop the McDonnell Administration from playing politics with women’s lives.

Be sure to read our latest action alert and visit our website to learn more about the issue and how you can join us in standing up for continued reproductive health access for women across the Commonwealth.