Today, Virginia's Board of Health is voting on a bill that would essentially put the vast majority of the state's first-trimester abortion clinics out of business by regulating them like hospitals.
Closing the clinics down is the real aim of the regulations, which don't have much to do with patient safety but include "construction, maintenance, equipment and staffing" — for example, requiring a parking spot for every bed, despite the fact that first-trimester abortions don't require overnight stays. The chances for the bill look good: it was passed by the legislature earlier this year, the state's governor supports them, and polls show most Virginians do too.
As the Daily Press points out, there is no evidence of a legitimate public health concern to spur the regulations:
In the decade from 1999 to 2009, there was one abortion-related maternal death, according to [state] spokeswoman Maribeth Brewster. By contrast, in 2009 alone, the records reveal 11 deaths resulting from pregnancy and childbirth. Last year, there were 25,574 first-trimester abortions in Virginia, about one-third of which were medically induced without surgery. Clinics are only authorized to do first-trimester procedures.
There are 22 clinics in Virginia that perform abortions; they say they're financially unable to meet the regulations, which is precisely the point. If they do shut down, they'll presumably be taking all their non-abortion health services with them, such as well-woman gynecological exams and contraceptive services.
Click to viewReproductive rights advocates rallied against the bill yesterday, saying the rules "threaten the continued availability of safe, legal first-trimester abortion and put politics before sound medicine. Even worse, the governor has imposed an ‘emergency' regulatory process to create the new rules; a process that will limit time for deliberation and public input."
Unfortunately, a Quinnipiac poll found that 55 percent of Virginians support the regulations, including many Democrats. According to the Roanoke Times, "22 percent opposed it. Only 25 percent had heard of the proposed regulations before responding to the poll." It's unclear whether it was explained to them that the regulations are medically unnecessary and hold abortions to a standard that other invasive procedures like colonoscopies or dental surgery are not. And health regulations should be subject to medical expertise, not interest group politics or popular votes. Still, it provides little political risk, at least for now.
Board Of Health To Vote Today On Abortion Clinic Regulations [Times Dispatch]
Virginia Abortion-Rights Rally Attempts To Sway Health Board From Adopting ‘TRAP' Clinic Regulations [American Independent]
"Emergency" Regulations Threaten Virginia's Abortion Clinics [Daily Press]