Kathy Greenier, Reproductive Freedom Project Director
don't let red tape trap women (2)Just a few days ago, Sept. 15, marked the four-year anniversary of when the Virginia Board of Health approved the most onerous, medically unnecessary Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers (TRAP) in the nation. On Thursday, Sept. 17, we celebrated one big step forward in the effort to rescind those restrictions.
In case you didn’t know, TRAP refers to laws or policies that restrict abortion providers by regulating beyond what is necessary for patient health and safety.
Currently, 25 states have such laws or policies. Virginia is one of 12 states regulating the width of corridor, one of 12 states specifying the size of procedure rooms, and one of eight states that require an abortion facility to have medically unnecessary links to a local hospital. The only reason for these rules is to make it harder for abortion providers to serve their patients or ultimately to shut them down.
Forcing abortion providers to close also hurts women’s access to other comprehensive health care services that they offer such as cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and birth control. Three of 21 abortion providers in Virginia have already been forced to close or stop providing services in part due to these malicious rules.
That’s partly why medical professionals across Virginia and groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have called for the past four years for fixes to the restrictions. They made this point loud and clear: If the medically unnecessary restrictions remain unchanged, additional providers will close, cutting off women’s access to critical health care.
Hundreds of medical professionals have told us TRAP doesn’t make women safer. Abortion is already extremely safe - 99 percent safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In fact, TRAP puts women at risk.
On Sept. 17, the Virginia Board of Health considered fixes to medically unnecessary restrictions. Women’s health supporters started lining up at 4 a.m. to ensure a spot in the board’s meeting room. Medical professionals and women who rely on trusted, compassionate care from providers across the Commonwealth testified in favor of scrapping TRAP. After a 14hour day, medicine prevailed over politics when the board voted 9-6 to begin rolling back the campaign of politically motivated attacks on abortion access.
As a result:
  • Abortion providers no longer must have links to local hospitals.
  • Existing abortion providers no longer must comply with hospital-style architectural rules designed to apply only to new construction, and which are not medically appropriate for abortion facilities.
Thanks to these changes, Virginia’s current abortion providers can remain open.
There is still more work to do, however. Thousands of Virginia women still must travel hundreds of miles to access affordable, quality reproductive health care. It’s not enough to simply slow the attacks on women’s health—we must also expand access. Unfortunately, the board did not fully roll back the medically unnecessary construction standards for new abortion providers, or for existing providers who might want to expand their buildings.
The ACLU of Virginia won’t stop fighting until we can ensure all providers are treated fairly and every Virginia woman has access to an abortion if she needs one. Please join us in that fight!
The Board’s decision will go before the governor and attorney general for review, with a 60-day public comment period to follow. The public comment period is your chance to tell the board why you stand for abortion access. Stay tuned to our Facebook, Twitter, and this website so you’ll know when the public comment period begins!