A bill passed by the Virginia legislature yesterday mandates that the state's abortion clinics be regulated the same way as hospitals. The move could shut down 17 of the 21 clinics in Virginia.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia currently treats first-trimester abortions as procedures that can be performed in a doctor's office setting, much like colonoscopies or dental surgeries. But with the passage of the new bill, they'll have to be performed under hospital conditions, a requirement no other state in the country has. And that means all abortion clinics will have to meet hospital standards — which, according to Ms. Magazine's blog, include things like "a parking spot for every bed in the clinic–which is ridiculous since first-trimester abortions don't require an overnight stay."
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says he'll sign the bill, which he calls a "clinic safety issue." And Republican State Senator John Watkins says, "This is all about the quality-of-care issue - this is all about patient health and patient safety." But others say the bill's real aim is to keep women from getting abortions — says Democratic State Sen. Janet Howell, "The people pushing for this amendment are the same people who don't want women to have any access to abortion." And indeed, many believe the new regulations will have the effect of closing down the majority of the state's abortion clinics. Joseph Richards, Program and Communications Manager of NARAL Virginia, says, "Even if [those that rent] could afford to do this, it essentially shuts them down. Seventeen of the 21 first-trimester abortion providers in Virginia would likely be forced to close due to an inability to comply with medically-unnecessary, cost-prohibitive cosmetic regulations."
In the wake of the horrific allegations against Kermit Gosnell's clinic, it's clear that women need safe, clean abortion facilities. But requiring that all clinics become hospitals isn't really about that — NARAL Virginia points out that "physician's offices providing abortion are already regulated by state and federal agencies. They also meet the same licensing standards as offices where other surgical medical procedures are provided, such as plastic surgeries, colonoscopies, and sterilization." William Saletan has taken pro-choicers to task for insufficiently supporting clinic regulation — but when regulations proposed by the right are so often based not on medical science but on a desire to restrict abortion rights, it's hard to find common ground. Women deserve a high standard of care whatever reproductive decisions they make, but the way to ensure this is to treat abortion like the legitimate medical procedure it is, not impose restrictions that are really based on politics, not health.