(PRESS RELEASE) The Virginia Board of Health voted 9–6 today to lift some of the harsh restrictions in the state’s Texas-style clinic regulations specifically designed to shutter abortion clinics throughout the state and block abortion access for millions of Virginia women.
Today’s vote comes four months after Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took critical steps in reversing those underhanded efforts by calling for existing health care facilities offering abortion services to be exempt from meeting onerous and medically unnecessary new hospital-like construction standards. The Governor’s actions follows years of political pressure and interference from former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to severely enforce the state regulations.
The amendments passed today allow current clinics that have been offering safe and high-quality care to remain open and offer services in their existing buildings and remove the medically unnecessary requirement that clinics have a transfer agreement with a local hospital. However, the regulations still include medically unnecessary construction standards for new women’s health centers or those existing clinics which decide to expand.
The Board of Health will next consider public comment as the regulatory process unfolds over the coming months.
Virginia’s clinic shutdown law mirrors portions of HB2, a notorious Texas law which has already closed half of the abortion providers in the state. Earlier this month, a coalition of women’s health care providers—represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights— Cmd+Click or tap to follow the link”>asked the U.S Supreme Court to review Texas’ clinic shutdown law.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Facts have finally prevailed over politics regarding women’s health care in Virginia. Today’s vote is a huge step in the right direction in this years-long fight against Virginia’s baseless attempts to shutter high-quality clinics throughout the state offering safe and legal abortion care.
“Whether in Virginia, Texas, or anywhere else sham restrictions masquerading as safety regulations should never be used to block women’s rights and access to essential health care.
“We call on Virginia policymakers to continue the important work of ensuring every Virginia woman has access to the constitutionally protected health care she needs.”
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.
Clinic shutdown laws have swept the South in recent years, threatening to further devastate abortion access in a region already facing limited availability of reproductive health care services. The remaining clinics in Texas and the last abortion clinic in Mississippi are waiting on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review their clinic shutdown laws when the Court’s term starts on October 1 while health care providers in Louisiana are awaiting a federal court ruling which could shutter all but one clinic in the state. Courts have blocked similar measures in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama.