Today, as a hurricane of unprecedented proportions threatened a large swath of the state of Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell found time to issue regulations for first trimester abortion providers that go well beyond any existing regulations seen in other states, including South Carolina, according to the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health, a statewide coalition of health care providers and women’s health advocates.
The “draft” regulations–which were formulated under an emergency process that bypasses public review and comment periods and standard economic assessments for new regulations and is undemocratic on its face–will be put in place for 18 months to 2 years while more permanent regulations are formulated.
The goal of these regulations is clear: To dramatically curtail if not eliminate safe, legal first-trimester abortion in the state of Virginia.
According to the Coalition, the draft regulations require existing women’s health centers in Virginia to meet extensive, significant physical plant requirements found in the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities – including Guidelines for Outpatient Surgical Facilities, otherwise called ambulatory surgical facilities.
These Guidelines, according to a statement by the Coalition, “are intended for brand new construction in the process of being built.”
These standards were never intended for existing health care structures and are not intended to apply to office-based surgical procedures. By relying on the 2010 Guidelines and imposing them on existing structures, the Virginia Department of Health would force substantial architectural changes by women’s health centers in order to be in compliance. Rather than protect women’s health, the regulations could endanger women because they could limit access to safe abortion by driving legitimate providers out of practice, which could place the health of women in Virginia in jeopardy.
As we and others have noted time and time again, first-trimester abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure, in fact it is among the safest medical procedures performed in the United States. These regulations and others like them in states that have similar TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws in place have no sound medical or public health basis and professional medical, OB-GYN, and public health agencies and providers oppose them.
“These new attempts to single out women’s health centers are part of an unprecedented political campaign at the state and federal levels to undermine women’s access to safe, legal reproductive health care services,” said the Coalition’s statement.
Unable to make the procedure illegal, the Virginia General Assembly sought to make first-trimester abortion procedures inaccessible in Virginia. If the regulations are not amended to reflect sound medical practices, women in many parts of the state may lose access to reproductive health services, including life-saving cancer screenings, family planning, and STI testing and treatment, not just abortion.
As we noted yesterday, the draft regulations will now go before the Board of Health at a meeting in September that, from the point of view of democracy and public participation is a farce.
The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health has launched a campaign to amend these regulations by providing input to the Board of Health and urging them to ensure any regulations promulgated are based upon proven medical practices that advance the public health.
“We encourage the medical community and the public to weigh in with the Board as well,” notes the Coalition statement. “We are mounting a public campaign, including a rally on September 14th, and will review all of our options to develop the most appropriate strategy to protect women’s health and rights.”
If you live in Virginia and want information on the actions and petitions protesting these regulations now underway, visit the Coalition website.