In Virginia abortion clinics might soon close at an alarming rate due to legislation requiring they be regulated like hospitals. In March, Governor McDonnell signed SB 924, a bill that classifies women’s health centers in the state as a category of hospitals, making them subject to new regulations created by the Department of Health. These laws are called “TRAP laws.” TRAP stands for Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers.
The measure forces the state’s 21 clinics to meet rigorous standards—such as wide hallways and tall ceilings—that aren’t required of other medical practices that perform invasive and often more dangerous, medical procedures such as dental surgery, plastic surgery, or colonoscopies. These regulations, which single out women’s health centers, sparked the formation of Virginia Coalition for Women’s Health, a statewide coalition of health care providers and women’s health advocates. They are hoping to reach out to Virginia law makers and communities to educate the public about this issue as well as fight this legislation.
These politically driven proposed regulations were released last Friday by state health officials. The draft regulations require existing women’s health centers in Virginia to meet extensive physical plant requirements found in the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities – including Guidelines for Outpatient Surgical Facilities. These Guidelines are intended for brand new facilities in the process of being built and were never intended for existing health care structures. They were also not intended to apply to office-based surgical procedures.
According to the Coalition’s statement on these draft abortion regulations, “By relying on the 2010 Guidelines and imposing them on existing structures, the Virginia Department of Health would force substantial architectural changes by women’s health centers in order to be in compliance. Rather than protect women’s health, the regulations could endanger women because they could limit access to safe abortion by driving legitimate providers out of practice, which could place the health of women in Virginia in jeopardy.”
The Coalition hopes to get students and young people more involved as well, since these regulations will most likely disproportionately affect young people and minorities by hindering access to reproductive health care. They are having a Speak Out on September 14th at 11:30AM at Virginia Commonwealth University to send the message that the pro-choice community will not stand for limiting abortion access by enforcing such regulations. They also will be present the next day (September 15th) when the Board votes on this measure at the Wyndham Richmond Airport Hotel at 9:00 AM. There will be an opportunity to speak out against this regulation at the meeting, and it is imperative that our voices our heard.
The FMF Campus Team will be working with the newly started Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance at Virginia Commonwealth University to help get students out to these events. If you are in the area, please try to attend this important rally, and educate your friends and families on the issue. We really want to have young peoples’ voices represented in this fight, as access to abortion and other reproductive health care services directly impacts us. If you are unable to make it, you are welcome to contribute by signing the petition.