An Opportunity to Protect Access to Abortion

By Kathy Greenier, ACLU of Virginia Reproductive Freedom Project Director

don't let red tape trap women (2)Two weeks ago, we wrote about TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) and that we’re one step closer to removing abortion regulations that are based on politics, not health. And, early next month, the Virginia Board of Health will meet to discuss the Governor’s call to reform TRAP. What does this mean for abortion access in the Commonwealth?

As you may recall, in 2011 the Virginia legislature passed and the governor signed in to law SB 924. The law classifies “facilities in which 5 or more first trimester abortions per month are performed” as a category of hospitals, thus requiring new regulations drafted by the Department of Health and voted on by the Virginia Board of Health, for women’s health centers across the state.

During the regulatory process, the Board and Department of Health ignored sound science and failed to protect patient interests by adopting medically inappropriate regulations. The regulations require existing women’s health centers to come into compliance with three chapters of a manual called the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities within the next two years. These Guidelines are intended to apply only to new construction, not to existing facilities, and this is how they are applied to every other health care facility in Virginia. These extensive, burdensome construction requirements have no relation to patient safety. The massive cost of compliance with this unnecessary regulation on women’s health centers underscores its true intent – it’s about politics, not health. If women’s health centers don’t make these medically unnecessary changes to their buildings, they must shut down.

On May 12 of this year, Governor McAuliffe announced that he asked the Virginia Board of Health to immediately begin reviewing these regulations – to ensure that its decision was based on health, not politics. The review will determine whether TRAP should be repealed, amended, or retained in its current form. The review includes a public comment period, set for June 16, 2014 – July 31, 2014.

First-trimester abortions remain one of the safest and most common of all in-office surgical procedures. Abortion should not be regulated differently than other outpatient procedures that do not trigger these strict regulations. It’s time for the Board of Health to place women’s health above their personal beliefs.

Make sure to follow #LibertyChatVA on Twitter tomorrow at noon.  We’ll have a conversation about how you can ensure that women’s health centers stay open.  We’ll also answer any questions you have about the status of reproductive freedom in the Commonwealth.  Join us!

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