In March of this year Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed SB 924 into law; a bill that requires the state Board of Health to create new regulations for abortion clinics. Well, really it’s a bill to limit access to abortion through TRAP laws similar to those found in South Carolina and Kansas. The regulations, at present, are even more extreme than those in other states. Prior to the regulations being enacted, Virginia clinics have operated under regulations also used to regulate facilities that perform oral and cosmetic surgeries and there are no indications that these existing regulations have failed to keep women safe so clearly the regulations have nothing to do with protecting women’s health as claimed.
These new regulations will require all facilities that perform more than 5 abortions a month to overhaul their facilities to meet the requirements set forth in the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities. These regulations were intended for full service ambulatory surgical centers, not for office based procedures. They were also intended for NEW buildings, not existing centers. Though these new regulations are stricter than in other states, they focus on the same minutia that really has nothing to do with patient safety such as, room size and temperature.
Perhaps the worst part of it is the way these regulations have been created and implemented. In Virginia, changes in health care policies are supposed to take two years to be created and implemented so that state residents have a chance to weigh in on them and let their representatives know if there is support for the changes as well as to give health care providers time to comply with the changes. Gov. McDonnell has decided that such machinations of democracy are unnecessary in his state; when it comes to Virginia he knows best. Rather than follow the two year procedure, he decided to pass the bill as an “emergency process” which bypasses public comment periods and allows him to make changes to the Board approved regulations without needing to check with the Board of Health first.
It essentially tells the people of Virginia they are unimportant and lack the knowledge to understand what is best when it comes to such decisions. The Board of Health will be taking comments to get public opinion, but only for an hour. To stand up against such overt authoritarian actions on the part of the Virginia government, a group of women’s health advocates and health care providers have formed the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health. They are currently in the process of collecting signatures for a petition to demand the Board of Health uses science when making their decision to recommend the regulations or not. Of course, even if they do modify them so that they are actually based in the realities of women’s health, Gov. McDonnell can make any changes he sees fit so it will likely still end up being the current standards that go into effect.
On the bright side, just because Gov. McDonnell doesn’t recognize the autonomy of women, the Supreme Court does. Although no group has officially stated they will seek a judicial block to the regulations, it is unlikely they will go unchallenged. Given recent decisions blocking similar regulations in Kansas, it is improbable the regulations will withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.