Today the Virginia Board of Health met and voted 13-2 to reverse their June decision to grandfather in existing clinics, exempting them from new, hospital-like restrictions for the state’s abortion clinics, commonly called TRAP laws or Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers. Instead, the board has allowed existing clinics to come into compliance with regulations within two years or face closure.
Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli refused to accept the grandfather provision asserting the board did not have the authority to amend the regulations. Cuccinelli also released a memo on Wednesday, threatening Board of Health members by telling them, according to the Virginia Pilot, that “they could be denied state legal counsel and [would] have to pay for their own defense if they again disregard his advice about relaxing controversial abortion clinic rules and litigation ensues.”
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation which has opposed the TRAP regulations and had many representatives at the meeting, said “This board decision is an underhanded method to make abortion inaccessible and outrageously expensive. Without clinics there is no choice for women. It threatens women’s health and lives because many women’s health clinics in Virginia may be forced out of business. These unnecessary and arbitrary rules will result in Virginia women having restricted access to not only abortion services but also to low-cost birth control services, cancer screenings, and sexually transmitted disease testing, as well as other women’s health services.”
The Board of Health was largely appointed by Governor Bob McDonnell, who is a strong opponent of abortion and women’s rights, and gained national attention when he initially advocated the requirement of a transvaginal probe ultrasound prior to an abortion.
The Board of Health meeting was packed today, with people filling both the board room and an overflow room and some 200 people standing outside who couldn’t gain admission. During the time set aside by the Board for public comment 14 pro-choice, abortion access supporters spoke, including representatives from Planned Parenthood, ACLU and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Eleven anti-abortion opponents, including National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Virginia Family Foundation, also spoke. After the Board reversed its decision, some pro-choice advocates walked out of the room, chanting “shame shame, you don’t care if women die.”
The amendment passed by the Board in June exempted existing clinics from hospital-like building regulations. The law will now require that all first-trimester abortion clinics are built (or renovated) to meet hospital-like construction standards. Also under the regulations, state authorities, without notice, can enter any clinic to examine patient medical records, gather a list of current patients, and interview patients on site, potentially violating both patient and provider privacy.
Before taking effect, the targeted regulations approved today must be certified by the Attorney General who will advise the Governor to sign the law. After the governor, there will be a 60 day comment period after which the law will go back before the Board of Health for final approval. This lengthy process makes it difficult to challenge the laws in court, which will have to wait until after the regulations have been implemented.
Media Resources: Virginia Pilot 9/13/12; Feminist Daily Newswire 7/17/12; 6/18/12