Women’s health advocates will continue fight to protect reproductive freedom in Virginia.

Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia expressed disapproval of Governor Bob McDonnell’s decision to accept the overly burdensome and unnecessary abortion licensure regulations drafted by the Department of Health and approved by the state Board of Health.
“We are greatly disappointed by Governor Bob McDonnell’s approval of abortion regulations that impose a regime of unprecedented severity,” said Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.  “No set of regulations as onerous as these have been upheld by any court. They are not necessary to improve the outcome of an already safe procedure, and abortion is no different from many other outpatient procedures that do not trigger these kinds of unneeded regulations.”
“These emergency regulations could limit the ability of qualified individuals to perform abortions, and only serve to exacerbate the shortage of abortion providers, thereby presenting a substantial obstacle for a woman seeking an abortion,” added Greenier.
Despite receiving in December 2011 a petition with over 40,000 signatures opposing the proposed regulations, the governor signed off on new emergency regulations that will reduce or eliminate patient access to health care, including abortion care.  The ACLU of Virginia and its partners in the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health had urged Gov. McDonnell to send the regulations back to the Virginia Board of Health for revisions that reflect evidence-based medical practices that advance public health.
The regulations were issued as a result of SB 924, a 2011 law passed by the General Assembly mandating that the Board of Health create and implement new regulations treating clinics that perform five or more first-trimester abortions a year as a category of hospital.
Documents obtained by the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that recommendations developed by the Department of Health together with a medical committee convened by the Department were significantly different than what the Department ended up releasing.  It appears that the committee’s recommendations would have likely enabled most health centers to remain open. However, the Attorney General’s office advised the Board of Health on the imposition of medically irrelevant requirements that were originally rejected by the Department of Health’s appointed medical committee.
The AG’s office advised the Board of Health that strict, unnecessary building standards for existing women’s health centers are mandated by state law, but the legislation requiring the implementation of regulations does not require anything specific at all.
The rules went into effect immediately upon approval by Governor McDonnell.  Now, the ACLU of Virginia and the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health will work to defend reproductive freedom during the permanent regulatory process.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022

 

 

Statement by the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health:

 Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health
Condemns Gov. McDonnell for Endangering Women

Coalition vows to continue to fight to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible in Virginia

RICHMOND – “It's an outrage that Gov. McDonnell has used public health regulations to play partisan politics in an attempt to limit – or eliminate – access to safe, legal abortion care in the Commonwealth,” said the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.  “The new regulations target health centers that provide a range of reproductive health care, including abortion, put women’s health at risk, and trample women’s rights. In these difficult economic times, when Virginians need more access to affordable, high quality health care, not less, women and families around the Commonwealth may now find themselves struggling to find a health care provider. ”
These new regulations are part of an unprecedented political campaign at the state and federal levels to undermine women’s access to safe, legal reproductive health care services.  More than 1,700 pages of FOIA documents (obtained by the coalition) reveal that the attorney general’s office intervened in the regulation drafting process to impose medically irrelevant requirements rejected by the Department of Health’s appointed medical committee.
The regulations, which the governor has now approved, go well beyond the legal requirements, putting the state at risk for ongoing legal battles as women’s health organizations fight to protect women’s health and safety.  The attorney general’s (AG’s) office reportedly advised the Board of Health on the imposition of medically irrelevant requirements that were originally rejected by the Department of Health’s appointed medical committee. The AG’s office advised the Board of Health that strict, unnecessary building standards for existing women’s health centers are mandated by state law, but the legislation requiring the implementation of regulations does not require anything specific at all. No state has ever passed, and no court has ever upheld, such burdensome regulations.
Abortion is an essential reproductive health service, as well as a legally protected medical procedure, but the Virginia General Assembly has sought to make first-trimester abortion procedures inaccessible. Further, once these regulations are in force, women in many parts of the state may lose access to reproductive health services, including life-saving cancer screenings, family planning, and STI testing and treatment, as well as abortion.
Now that the governor has accepted these temporary regulations, the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health is looking ahead to the permanent regulatory process, which will offer opportunities for expert and public input and comment. The coalition will review the regulations and determine the most appropriate strategy to protect women’s health and rights in light of this grave overstep by the Virginia legislature, attorney general, and governor.

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