RICHMOND, Va. - The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia generally supports the Board’s proposed amendments to the Final Regulations for the Licensure of Abortion Facilities, and urges the Board to adopt all of the Governor’s recommended changes to the rules. The current licensure rules impose 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, the current rules do nothing but endanger women’s health by undermining their ability to access safe legal abortion care from trusted, safe providers, and, as such, fail to meet the constitutional standards affirmed by the Supreme Court in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
The current rules are about politics, not medicine. Five years ago, the Virginia Dept. of Health (DOH) convened a panel of six top medical experts from across the state to draft regulations to implement Virginia’s law requiring those who provide five or more abortions a month to be “classified as a category of ‘hospital.’” Those experts recommended evidence-based regulations that protected women's health, but DOH ignored its own doctors' recommendations and drafted regulations designed instead to make it nearly impossible for abortion providers to operate. Under pressure from former Attorney General Cuccinelli, the Board of Health approved final rules that included these restrictions designed to shut down abortion providers rather than protect women’s health.
Now, covered first trimester abortion providers must meet building requirements designed for new ambulatory surgical centers - requirements that no other health care facility in Virginia must meet - despite the fact that first trimester abortion is an extremely safe outpatient procedure. About 88% of the women who obtain abortion care are less than 13 weeks pregnant. Of these women, 97% report no complications; 2.5% have minor complications that can be handled at the medical office or abortion facility; and less than 0.5% have more serious complications that require some additional surgical procedure and/or hospitalization. [1]
The current law and implementing rules single out abortion providers even though other procedures, like colonoscopies, commonly performed in outpatient clinics have a much higher rate of complications. Yet those clinics and doctors are not subject to these types of regulations. Some women’s health centers providing abortions in Virginia already have been forced to close, or to stop providing abortion services, due to these burdensome and medically unnecessary regulations. If these unconstitutional regulations remain unchanged, additional providers will close or cut back on services, further limiting women’s access to abortion in Virginia. The real motivation behind the law and current regulations has nothing do to with women’s health and everything to do with interfering with a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortion care. Such a scheme is clearly unconstitutional.
We urge the Board of Health to adopt the changes in the licensure rules now under consideration and to work with the ACLU of Virginia and other individuals and organizations who truly care about protecting women's health to repeal the statute that imposes on abortion providers licensing requirements that are not justified by medical necessity and serve only to burden women by limiting access to safe, legal abortions.
We encourage others to submit their comments before the July 1, 2016 by clicking here.
[1] National Abortion Federation, Safety of Abortion, available here