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Coalition Statement: Virginia Board of Health Scraps Unconstitutional Sham Restrictions
Richmond, VA — The Virginia Board of Health today voted 11-4 today to rescind unconstitutional sham restrictions on women’s health centers that threatened to cut off access to safe and legal abortion in the commonwealth. The vote was the culmination of a regulatory process initiated in 2014. In voting to amend the clinic shutdown restrictions, Virginia became the first state to take proactive steps to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt without court action.
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia:
"Today’s vote marks the culmination of a five-year regulatory drama that has placed Virginia women’s health and safety in severe jeopardy by targeting the state’s first trimester abortion providers with unnecessary and politically motivated regulations. We applaud the Board of Health’s years-long work to repeal or amend many of the restrictions that threaten providers’ ability to continue to offer women the full range of necessary reproductive healthcare services, including abortion. We believe the Board’s actions will help protect a Virginia woman’s ability to access safe and affordable abortion care no matter her circumstances. However, until the General Assembly repeals the unconstitutional statute giving rise to these medically unnecessary restrictions, abortion providers will continue to be subjected to sham restrictions that have long been opposed by physicians and other medical experts."
Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia Education Fund:
"Today the women of Virginia can take a deep breath knowing that for now they will continue to have access to safe and legal abortion. Politicians, not doctors, pushed these sham restrictions to cut off women’s ability to access comprehensive reproductive health care services. A woman who has decided to end a pregnancy deserves to be treated with respect and support, not politically motivated shame and stigma. Today’s vote is a step forward for the women of Virginia but we must to more to ensure politicians stay out of the doctor’s office.”
Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia:
"We applaud the Board of Health for putting women's health ahead of politics and adopting amendments to the regulations which remove many of the onerous, politically motivated restrictions on providers. For 100 years, Planned Parenthood has provided high quality care to women, men and young people; and, we will always fight for access to the full range of reproductive care including safe and legal abortion.”
Gail Deady, The Secular Society Women’s Rights Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Virginia:
"The Supreme Court made it resoundingly clear that regulations that impose burdens on access to abortion without providing a health benefit are unconstitutional. Advocates have been saying for years that the restrictions in Virginia are designed only to close clinics and make abortion difficult, if not impossible, to access. We are proud that today’s vote brings our abortion regulations in line with the rights protected by the Constitution,” said Gail Deady, The Secular Society Women’s Rights Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Virginia. "That said, the vote today is not a permanent solution. The board of health has taken a critical step to ensure the health and safety of Virginia women. It is now up to the legislature to do theirs and repeal the statute in full.”
Margie Del Castillo, Associate Director of Community Mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in Virginia:
"Today's win represents years of work by community members and advocates who have fought hard against these sham restrictions. These regulations harm Latina health in particular. A Latina working to raise the necessary funds for these services must often choose between paying for food, rent, or utilities, and the healthcare she needs. Harmful, sham restrictions compound the cost for women due to lost wages and added childcare and transportation expenses. Today's vote will begin the process of lifting the burden off Latinas and all women in Virginia, who deserve better."
In June 2016, the United States Supreme Court struck down Texas’s clinic shutdown law, setting a new precedent for state abortion restrictions. Under Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, laws governing abortion that impose an undue burden on access are unconstitutional unless they provide a larger benefit for women’s health. Virginia’s restrictions clearly do not meet that standard, a point underscored by the fact that no like medical provider is subjected to the same level of restriction.
The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health formed in 2011 as a response to the attack on women’s health and safety prompted by Senate Bill 924. The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health strives to protect and ensure access for all women in all regions of Virginia to safe first-trimester abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care services. The Coalition is committed to ensuring any regulations are based solely on medical and public health considerations. The Coalition is oppose to excessive, burdensome, or unneeded restrictions that undermine patient access to medical care for political or ideological purposes.