Virginia Attorney General Takes Critical Step Towards Taking Politics Out of the Exam Room
Legal opinion recommends reversing flawed, politically motivated regulations designed to shutter abortion clinics in Virginia
(PRESS RELEASE)—Following years of intense political pressure and interference from former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to enforce state regulations designed to shutter abortion clinics, yesterday the state’s current attorney general took the first critical steps to reverse those underhanded efforts and ensure women’s access to safe, legal, and high quality reproductive health care providers.
A legal opinion issued yesterday by Attorney General Mark Herring calls for existing health care facilities offering abortion services to be exempt from meeting onerous and medically unnecessary new hospital-like construction standards—advising abortion providers meet the same standards that allow every other similarly regulated health care facility to provide care in their current facilities.
Between 2011 and 2013—caving to extreme political pressure and scare tactics from the former governor and attorney general—the Virginia Board of Health promulgated regulations that unfairly targeted abortion providers to meet the excessive building standards, against the board’s own advisory panel recommendations and evidence that the new construction standards did nothing to advance women’s health and would impede access to care for many Virginians.
Earlier this year, Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered a review of the regulations, and Health Commissioner Marissa Levine recently announced her recommendation to amend the requirements. In light of the attorney general’s opinion, the Board of Health should now amend the regulations to grandfather in existing reproductive health facilities.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“The Attorney General has cleared the way at last for the reversal of the previous administration’s attacks on women’s access to safe, legal, essential health care.
“It’s now up to the Board of Health to ensure that the state’s regulations truly serve the purpose of protecting women’s health and well-being without interfering with their rights and ability to get safe, high-quality abortion care when they need it.
“We urge them to set an example for lawmakers across the U.S. by basing health care policy on evidence and the expertise of health care providers, not politicians’ ideological agendas.”
From clinic shutdown laws–which have closed clinics in Texas and threaten to shutter abortion providers in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama—to outright bans on abortion, women in the South and Southeast often face innumerable hurdles when trying to access their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion services. Legislators’ time and effort would be better spent on increasing the number of policies that are known to support women and children rather than enacting abortion restrictions that will not only harm Virginia women, but also wreak additional havoc in a region already decimated by similarly underhanded laws.
Harmful restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women’s Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like Virginia from imposing restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.