As a Virginia resident, I was deeply ashamed to see that the state senate voted earlier this week to pass a bill that would require clinics that provide first-trimester abortions to comply with Board of Health regulations on hospitals, which are far more stringent than the regulations which now apply to these clinics. Governor Bob McDonnell is expected to sign the bill into law, marking a giant step backward for abortion access in Virginia.
The Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP) bill has been proposed in the Virginia legislature for as long as I can remember, but each year it gets voted down. Last summer, however, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli took matters into his own hands when he empowered the Board of Health to apply these stricter regulations on abortion clinics if they chose. He was accused of circumventing the General Assembly, but the legislature now seems to be backing him up by finally passing this bill, which could close 17 of the state’s 21 abortion clinics because the required renovations would be too expensive. The clinics that would survive are ones that have been built in recent years and deliberately comply to these standards.
One of the often-cited requirements for these facilities is that two gurneys would be able to pass each other in the clinics’ hallways. David Nova, the vice president of Virginia’s Planned Parenthood Health Systems, says that gurneys are rarely used, and that these stipulations, far from making abortion clinics safer, will simply make abortion more expensive and difficult to access.
“Regardless of if you could stay open, this is going to drive up the cost of abortions in Virginia,” Nova said. “It will be considerably more expensive and therefore less accessible, in particular for low-income clients. For many, they will find it less onerous to leave the state.”
Abortion rights advocates may sue the state, saying that the new restrictions place an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s ability to access an abortion. According to the Washington Post, most of the 26,000 abortions performed in Virginia in 2009 were in clinics that were regulated in the same way as other outpatient procedures, like colonoscopies or plastic surgery.
With these new regulations, Virginia will become one of the most difficult places in the country to access a first-trimester abortion. If you’re a Virginia resident, contact your state legislators and let them know how unhappy you are with this bill. We can only hope that pro-choice advocates’ attempts to sue the state over this measure will be successful.
Photo from Flickr.