by Kathy Greenier, Reproductive Freedom Project Director
Update: A 30-day public comment period on the Board’s vote is happening now. Make your voice heard – tell the Board you support their decision.
Today, we celebrate a huge victory for women’s health in Virginia. The Virginia Board of Health approved the Virginia Health Commissioner’s recommendation to amend medically-unnecessary rules currently governing abortion providers in the Commonwealth, commonly referred to as Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers (TRAP).
First, how did we get here?It’s because thousands of Virginians and hundreds of medical experts publicly denounced the restrictions. The public and medical experts agreed – we all share a commitment to the importance of ensuring patient health and safety, but these restrictions don’t do that.
The restrictions aren’t about patient health and safety because unlike every other health care facility in Virginia these restrictions require existing women’s health centers to come into compliance with architectural standards that are intended to apply only to new construction, not to existing facilities.
When you think about it, hallway widths, quantity of parking spots, covered entrances, and the specific types of water fountains have little to do with actual patient care. Imposing the massive costs of compliance with these medically-unnecessary restrictions underscores the extent to which these regulations are about politics and not health. The Virginia Department of Health estimates that complying with these regulations could force women’s health centers to spend over $2.5 million, or close.
Medical experts spoke out to say that these construction requirements have no relation to the safety of the services that women’s health centers provide. We have to ask ourselves, who is most competent to set standards for women’s health care centers? Medical experts who are on the frontlines of patient care or politicians who single out women’s health care centers for medically unnecessary restrictions?
We know the answer. That’s why Governor McAuliffe directed the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to review these medically-unnecessary restrictions. During the review’s public comment period, VDH received 10,600 comments from Virginians across the Commonwealth in favor of amending or repealing the regulations. Thanks in part to these comments, on October 1, 2014 the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Marissa Levine, recommended amending the restrictions, triggering the Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA) brought before the Board for a vote today.
Today’s approval of the NOIRA is the first, crucial step toward ensuring that rules for women’s health centers are based in medicine, not politics. Passage of the NOIRA opens the door to ensuring these medically unnecessary restrictions are revised, and our safe, trusted women’s health care centers that provide important preventive care and abortion services can remain open.
Specific regulatory language will be drafted and voted on at a later date, and we’ll let you know how you can make your voice heard throughout this process. Now that the Board has voted yes on the NOIRA, the executive branch has approximately 30 days to review and authorize the NOIRA. Executive branch authorization will trigger a 30 day public comment period. Specific regulatory language will be drafted and voted on at a later date. Stay tuned!
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