Hearings began today concerning a lawsuit filed in April by the Family Foundation of Virginia over amendments to Virginia’s “Regulations for Licensure of Abortion Facilities” that removed unconstitutional outpatient surgical center building requirements imposed on clinics that perform abortions.
The Feminist Majority Foundation and other members of the reproductive healthcare community were in front of the Henrico County Circuit Court to show support for the Board of Health’s decision and solidarity with the women of Virginia.
In a statement, Governor McAuliffe said, “My administration has been and will continue to be a brick wall to protect women’s health. The regulation attacked by this lawsuit reversed rules that were aimed solely at closing health clinics and denying Virginia women access to safe and affordable care. This lawsuit is yet another attack on women and their rights.”
The struggle over these burdensome targeted regulations of abortion providers began in 2011 when the state passed a law requiring clinics to widen their hallways and doorways, expand their parking lots, and construct awnings at the entrances, forcing clinics to either pay unnecessary costs or close.
The Virginia Board of Health was responsible for carrying out that law, and in 2013 the Board voted to only impose the medically unnecessary requirements on new clinics. Then-state Attorney General and strong abortion opponent Ken Cuccinelli responded by saying he would not defend the Board if they were sued over that decision and threated that Board members could be held personally legally liable, bullying them into reversing their vote.
But in June of 2016, the Supreme Court heard the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and ruled that Texas’s ambulatory surgical center requirement was unconstitutional, as lawyers for the state could prove no medical benefits and the provision constituted an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. At that point, 18 states had similar requirements, and that decision rendered all of those laws unconstitutional.
In October 2016, the Virginia Board of Health approved amendments doing away with the newly unconstitutional requirements by a vote of 11-4 and Governor Terry McAuliffe certified the changes in January 2017. The amendments went into effect March 22 and put Virginia in compliance with the Supreme Court decision. That is when the Family Foundation of Virginia filed their lawsuit alleging that procedure had been violated.
Virginia’s Republican majority General Assembly has failed to pass the Whole Woman’s Health Act, which would get rid of all targeted regulations of abortion providers and bring Virginia fully into compliance with the 2016 Supreme Court ruling. The state has also refused to expand Medicaid and bars Medicaid, public employee insurance plans, and plans sold in the Affordable Care Act marketplace from covering abortion care except in cases of life-endangerment, rape or fetal impairment. In addition, before an abortion, Virginia women are required to endure mandated counseling, a 24 hour waiting period, and an ultra-sound where they are asked if they would like to view an image of the fetus.
The state also has 58 crisis pregnancy centers, which often have no doctors on staff but rather are used to deceive, manipulate, and shame pregnant women seeking information about abortion. That is three times the number of legitimate clinics that offer actual abortion counseling and services.
But recently there have also been some successes in Virginia, including last year’s Board of Health vote. In a surprising turn, the General Assembly voted in February to allow women to access a 12-month supply of birth control at a time. That same month, Governor McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have specifically cut off Title X funding to organizations that perform abortions.
Media Resources: NBC 4/21/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 4/25/17, 6/29/17; Roanoke Times 8/9/17