The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia supports the review of medically unnecessary rules currently regulating abortion providers in Virginia. Far from improving the outcome of an already safe procedure, the current regulations endanger patients by imposing a regime of unprecedented severity, completely out of line with the standards for abortion care and for all other comparable medical procedures – in Virginia and throughout the nation. With no connection whatsoever to improving patient safety, these regulations do nothing but endanger patients’ health by undermining their ability to access care from trusted, safe providers.
Medically unnecessary restrictions designed to shut down abortion providers jeopardize patients’ health by making it more difficult for women to access safe and legal abortions, along with the comprehensive, preventative health care that some providers also offer, like contraceptive care and STI screenings. Several women’s health centers in Virginia have already been forced to close, or stop providing abortion services altogether, at least in part due to these burdensome and medically-unnecessary regulations. Other providers are very likely discouraged from offering even medication abortions because of the additional requirements that attach to the decision to perform or prescribe medication for five or more abortions a month. If the regulations remain unchanged, the number and availability of providers will be further reduced, cutting off access to preventative and critical health care.
In 2017, some of the regulations were repealed. Yet, the remaining regulations continue to restrict access to abortion services by requiring doctor’s offices and clinic facilities providing five or more abortions per month to meet requirements far beyond those in place for providers of comparable office-based outpatient care. About 88 percent of the women in the United States who obtain abortion care are less than 13 weeks pregnant.Among women receiving first-trimester abortions, only 2% experience any complication, with less than 0.5 percent having more serious complications that require some additional surgical procedure and/or hospitalization. These restrictions single out abortion providers for regulation even though other procedures, like colonoscopies, have a much higher rate of complication, and are commonly performed in similar outpatient clinics. Clinics and doctors performing these higher-risk procedures remain minimally regulated. Rather, only doctors and clinics that provide abortions are singled out. The real motivation behind these regulations has nothing do to with women’s health and everything to do with shutting down existing abortion providers and discouraging others from offering this legal and safe procedure. The goal of proponents of these rules is an end to availability of abortions in Virginia in all parts of the Commonwealth, not protection of women’s health and safety.
We urge the Board of Health to repeal and rewrite the current regulations of abortion providers in a manner that treats these medical facilities like other facilities providing similar services, elevates women’s health and safety over political agendas, and assures the current and future availability of doctors and clinics across the Commonwealth willing and able to offer women safe and legal abortions.