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Virginia Board of Heath Approves Politically-Motivated Regulations for Women's Health Centers
The Virginia Board of Health defied the recommendations of legal and medical experts – and the protest of thousands of Virginians – in voting 11-2 today to subject existing women’s health centers that provide abortion care to medically-unnecessary building requirements. These targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP) require Virginia’s first-trimester abortion providers to come into compliance with architectural standards written for newly-constructed hospitals – standards not required of any other outpatient facility or existing hospital in the commonwealth. As approved by the Board of Health, these unprecedented regulations will likely force the majority of first-trimester abortion providers in Virginia to close due to the expense and difficulty required to reconstruct existing facilities.
"We’re extremely disappointed that 11 Board of Health members voted to put a narrow anti-choice agenda before medical and legal expertise, public health needs, and evidence-based regulation,” said Caroline O’Shea, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
"Over the past two years, it’s been abundantly clear that Governor Bob McDonnell, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and their anti-choice allies were intent on manipulating the regulatory process to achieve their ultimate goal of restricting Virginians’ access to safe, legal abortion care. What we saw today was the Board of Health succumbing to political pressure and back-room bullying from Virginia’s extreme governor and attorney general.”
The regulations passed today have been met with overwhelming opposition from public health experts, doctors, lawyers, and the people of Virginia. Almost 200 Virginia doctors have publically denounced the regulations over the past year, 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. Of nearly 6,000 comments submitted to the Department of Health during the recent public comment period, an overwhelming majority (81%) opposed the proposed new regulations.
O’Shea continued, "Medical experts and the people of Virginia have clearly rejected these regulations. Health regulations should be written to address demonstrated public health needs, not to further politicians’ ideological crusades and block Virginians from accessing health care services they choose.
"Now because of Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Cuccinelli, Virginia is one step closer to losing many women’s health centers that have exemplary records of providing safe first-trimester abortion and reproductive health care, some of them for decades. That means thousands of Virginia women, particularly low-income women, will lose affordable access not only to abortion care but to the comprehensive services like family planning and well-woman care that these centers provide.
"I don’t think anyone buys that politicians like McDonnell and Cuccinelli, who are so open about their desire to criminalize abortion altogether, were ever pushing for these medically-unnecessary regulations out of concern for Virginia women who choose to have an abortion. This is a blatant attempt to impose a back-door ban on safe, legal abortion care. We’re seeing McDonnell and Cuccinelli’s extreme agenda on women’s rights and health in action yet again, and we will make sure that pro-choice Virginia voters remember it this fall.”
The regulations will now be up for a final 30-day public comment period after which Governor McDonnell is expected to sign them. Virginia’s 20 first-trimester abortion providers will have little over a year to comply with burdensome architectural standards or be forced to close their doors to women seeking abortion care.