Virginia Commissioner of Health Dr. Marissa Levine yesterday reccomended that Virginia’s harsh TRAP rules restricting abortion access within the state be amended.

The decision comes after Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) ordered a periodic review of the regulations, expressing concern that the TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) rules were “extreme and punitive” and could endanger women’s health. During the public comment period, the Virginia Department of Health received over 10,000 comments, about 80 percent of the total number of comments received, urging repeal or revisions to the existing rules.

The Commissioner had until October 1 to recommend whether to repeal, amend, or uphold the regulations. Explaining that she did not feel she had authority to repeal the law, Dr. Levine recommended amendment. She called the clinic rules “arbitrary” and “marked by political interference.”

The Virginia Board of Health approved the existing regulations in 2013 under pressure from anti-choice, former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The rules, which have already forced at least two clinics in the state to close, require clinics to have the same physical architectural standards as newly built hospitals. Examples of the changes required by the regulations include making additional parking available, replacing existing ceilings, and adding showers to all facilities for staff members.

The Board of Health had initially exempted existing clinics from the rules, but reversed itself after Cuccinelli, who unsuccessfully ran for Virginia governor in 2013, threatened Board members with the denial of state legal counsel.

“There is a perception across the commonwealth that the Board of Health was pressured into approving rules that impede the ability of women to access preventive services and even sometimes lifesaving care,” Governor McAuliffe stated when ordering his review. “Let me be clear – I share those concerns.”

Dr. Levine’s decision will now be presented to the full Board of Health for a vote at its December 4 meeting.

“Commissioner Levine’s decision today is an important first step to right a wrong and fix these dangerous restrictions on women’s’ health centers ,” said Tarina Keene, co-chair of the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health, following the announcement. “The current restrictions were designed to shut down women’s health centers and cut off access to comprehensive reproductive health care for Virginia’s women and families, including life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, and safe, legal first-trimester abortion.”

Keene urged the Board of Health to approve Dr. Levine’s recommendations and to “ensure that these regulations are based in medicine – not politics.”

Media Resources: American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia 10/1/2014; Huffington Post 10/1/2014; Feminist Newswire 5/13/14, 4/12/13, 9/14/12

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