Virginia TRAP Regulations Go Into Effect

Correction, July 2, 12:25 p.m. EST: The first two paragraphs of this article have been corrected to better clarify the legislative process that the regulations went through.

Thursday marks the day when Virginia’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) regulations go into effect, potentially limiting access to safe, legal abortion care in the state. Signed into effect in late December after a two-year back-and-forth between the state health board and the vehemently anti-choice governor’s administration, the medically unnecessary requirements will force many clinics to invest significant amounts of money in upgrades and modifications or else close.

Regulations that would allow the state Board of Health to require that the state’s abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers were approved by the state legislature in 2011. When the board authorized the changes, but allowed existing providers to grandfather in without adhering to the new guidelines, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli rejected the ruling and refused to allow it. Since then, the commissioner left in disgust. Later, new, more radically anti-choice members were appointed, allowing members of the administration to have the regulations they desired—the ones meant to force as many providers as possible out of business.

“After two years of backroom bullying and willful manipulation of the law, Virginia’s anti-choice politicians have officially succeeded in putting an extreme ideology before the health and rights of Virginia women,” Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and co-chair of the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health, said in a statement. “Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have spent the last two years playing politics with Virginians’ basic rights and healthcare—and today they are responsible for implementing some of the most extreme state abortion laws in the country. These regulations—like other attempts to chip away at reproductive freedom both here and across the country—are a blatant move to impose a back door ban on safe, legal, abortion care. Because of the callous actions of our governor and attorney general, thousands of Virginia women and families will soon find themselves without access to the critical healthcare they need. It’s a devastating day for the Commonwealth.”

Even before the law went into effect, anti-choice advocates were seeing their desired outcome. Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk announced at the end of April that it would be closing after four decades of offering safe abortion care, citing an inability to spend the roughly half a million dollars it would take to bring the clinic into compliance with the new law.

Meanwhile, Falls Church Healthcare Center is suing over the new regulations, arguing that upgrades to the clinic could cost well over $2 million. Attorney David Lasso, who is representing the clinic, told the Virginian Pilot that there is “no logical relationship between those construction rules” and medical science. “You have a body of rules that’s now been turned on its head to apply to existing facilities that already comply with local building codes,” he said.

Reproductive and civil rights advocates agree. “Attorney General Cuccinelli is wrong on the law,” Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health Co-Chair Katherine Greenier, the director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said in a statement. “There is nothing in the Virginia Code (or Senate Bill 924, defining abortion providers as hospitals) that requires the Board of Health to impose extensive, burdensome construction requirements that have no relation to the safety of the services that women’s health centers provide. AG Cuccinelli’s forced interpretation of the law in this instance is at odds with every other regulation of health care facilities, and far from consistent with prior interpretations of the law at issue.”

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