Stealth Amendment by Virginia Lawmakers Could Eliminate Access to First Trimester Abortions in State


The 2011 session of the Virginia General Assembly draws to a close this Friday and with it may also come the closing of clinics that now provide access to safe, legal first trimester abortions in the state. Including, potentially, medication abortions performed in the very earliest stages of pregnancy.

Anti-choice delegates in the House snuck an amendment requiring first-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital into a bill that had nothing to do with abortion at all. The legislation, SB 924, had earlier passed the Senate; it addressed efforts to improve the prevention of outbreaks of the flu and would have required the Board of Health to issue regulations for hospitals, nursing homes, and certified nursing facilities in regard to this. 

When it got to the House of Delegates, however, enterprising members with nothing better to do than figure out how to screw women over (in a different way) slipped in an amendment changing the definition of hospitals.  Final arguments on this are expected tomorrow and if the amendment passes on a final vote, any facility that performs 5 or more first trimester abortion per month would effectively have to adhere to architectural and other standards required for hospitals.

This means, for example, standards for the size of parking lots adequate for the number of hospital beds (that don’t exist), and architectural changes such as widening hallways to allow two gurneys to pass at the same time.

In other words, things that are not needed in a clinic setting where procedures are among the safest of any outpatient procedure performed anywhere.

In other words, pure politics.

Such Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws pose unnecessary and burdensome regulations on abortion providers.

Legal abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure and entails one-thousandth the risk of death involved in an appendectomy, a common in-office surgical procedure.[1] The complication rate from abortion is vastly lower than that of breast augmentation, another procedure commonly performed in physicians’ offices.[2]

Using actual peer-reviewed data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration, the National Abortion Federation notes that:

Since the Supreme Court reestablished legal abortion in the U.S. in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, women have benefited from significant advances in medical technology and greater access to high-quality services.3 Generally, the earlier the abortion, the less complicated and safer it is.

Serious complications arising from aspiration abortions provided before 13 weeks are quite unusual. About 88% of the women who obtain abortions are less than 13 weeks pregnant.4 Of these women, 97% report no complications; 2.5% have minor complications that can be handled at the medical office or abortion facility; and less than 0.5% have more serious complications that require some additional surgical procedure and/or hospitalization.5

TRAP laws ignore the evidence and impose ideological burdens on providers that eventually will result in life and death burdens for women.  NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia states:

  • Physician’s offices providing abortion are already regulated by state and federal agencies. They also meet the same licensing standards as offices where other surgical medical procedures are provided, such as plastic surgeries, colonoscopies, and sterilization.[3]
  • The architectural, procedural, staffing, and equipment requirements of outpatient surgical centers are unrelated to providing, and unnecessary for ensuring, safe first-trimester abortion services.
  • The cost of complying with these unnecessary and burdensome requirements is between $1.5 and $2.0 million.

In addition, notes NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia:

“by subjecting abortion providers to criminal and civil penalties, exposing them to harassment, and intruding significantly into their practice of medicine, TRAP laws deter physicians from becoming or remaining abortion providers. Thus, TRAP laws threaten to reduce the number of abortion providers, particularly in private practices, resulting in less access for women to safe and legal abortion services.”

The architectural costs of having to make such changes would dramatically raise the costs for clinics operating out of buildings they own and would likely be impossible for those that rent space. “Even if [those that rent] could afford to do this,” said Joseph Richards, NARAL Virginia’s Program and Communications Manager, “it essentially shuts them down. Seventeen of the 21 first-trimester abortion providers in Virginia would likely be forced to close due to an inability to comply with medically-unnecessary, cost-prohibitive cosmetic regulations.”

This amendment subjects abortion providers to unwarranted, unnecessary, and costly new restrictions that could restrict or end access to first-trimester abortion in Virginia.

Which, of course, is the point.  Once again, and you do get tired of saying it, it has nothing to do with women’s health, their lives, their rights, their aspirations, or their needs.  It has everything to do with using abortion as a smokescreen for controlling women.

NARAL is asking for your help, especially if you live in Virginia.

So Take Action: The bill will most likely be heard this morning, so please contact your senator today and ask him or her to oppose SB 924!


[1] Compare Caprice C. Greenberg, MD, MPH, “Recurrent” Appendicitis, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (Oct. 2010), available at http://www.webmm.ahrq.gov/case.aspx?caseID=225#ref2back (noting that the mortality rate for appendectomy for the general population is less than 1%), with L.A. Barlett et al., Maternal and Infant Health Branch, Div. of Reprod. Health, Nat’l Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Risk Factors for Legal Induced Abortion-Related Mortality in the United States, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Apr. 2004, pp. 729-37, abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15051566 (noting that the overall death rate during 1988-1997 for women obtaining legally induced abortions was 0.7 per 100,000 abortions, or .0007%). 

[2] See, e.g., U.S. Food & Drug Administration, FDA Breast Implant Consumer Handbook (2004): Local Complications & Reoperations, available at http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/ImplantsandProsthetics/BreastImplants/ucm064106.htm (noting, inter alia, that 24% of women with breast implants had complications resulting in reoperation during the first five years after implantation).

[3] See, e.g., Virginia Dep’t of Health Professions, Laws Governing All Health Professions, available at http://www.dhp.virginia.gov/dhp_laws/default.htm (last visited Dec. 17, 2010); Virginia Board of Medicine, Laws & Regulations, available at http://www.dhp.virginia.gov/medicine/medicine_laws_regs.htm (last visited Dec. 17, 2010).

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