Blog of Rights

Sad Day For Science and Women’s Health

By Talcott Camp, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project at 6:20pm

Today, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli strong-armed the VA Board of Health into reversing previous decisions based on medical evidence and patient safety in favor of unprecedented regulations on doctors and facilities that provide abortion care. This political move will endanger women by shutting down good, safe providers of abortion care. In a year when we have seen numerous politicians show utter disregard for women’s health, the story of today’s vote illustrates just how far some politicians will go to interfere in a woman’s personal, private decision making. 

Previously, the Virginia Board of Health proposed architectural guidelines for medical facilities that provide abortion care – these regulations, regarding the physical characteristics of the buildings in which doctors might provide abortion care (such as how wide the hallways have to be and the size of the parking lot), would apply to new construction or major renovation.  

The state Attorney General forced the Board to reconsider these regulations. He wanted the regulations to be driven by anti-abortion politics, not medicine or patient safety. So he sent his spokesperson to a Board meeting to intimidate the doctors on the Board and outright lie about the law.  The spokesperson insisted that a statute passed last year requires the Board to impose new construction guidelines on existing facilities.  That is absurd: the statute says no such thing, and, never in the history of the Commonwealth has any medical or administrative body imposed guidelines for new construction on existing medical facilities of any kind.  There is no medical basis for doing so.  But there is a political reason for forcing existing facilities to meet new-building construction regulations: it could mean existing medical facilities are in violation of the regulations. Women’s health centers could be forced to close. 

Almost 200 Virginia doctors sent an open memo to the Board, applauding them for their prior, science-based votes and encouraging them to hold firm in today’s vote, concluding, “We must not travel down a dangerous slippery slope where we allow political forces to dictate medical care.”  

But the Attorney General didn’t back down. And the Board of Health voted to approve new proposed regulations that are in keeping with the Attorney General’s political agenda. The picture that emerges is stark: the Attorney General has twisted the law in order to twist the arms of doctors on the Board of Health – the very doctors Virginians entrust to rely on medical expertise to ensure their health and safety. And thanks to his arm-twisting, the proposed regulations, if unchanged after a 60 day public comment period, could severely limit access to abortion care in the state. 

Sadly, the Virginia Attorney General is not alone in his anti-abortion extremism. Politicians all over the country have been laser-focused on attacking women’s health centers that provide abortion care and taking away a woman’s reproductive health care decisions.  We need to speak up, in Virginia and wherever we are, to oppose efforts of politicians to dictate medical practice.

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