VA AG Ken Cuccinelli Goes After State Abortion Providers

VA Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

VA Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

Virginia Politics’ Anita Kumar reports that activist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who has led the charge against global warming, health care reform and nondiscrimination laws in the state’s colleges and universities, is now setting his sights on abortion providers. Late on Friday, Cuccinelli “issued a legal opinion allowing greater restrictions on abortion clinics“:

The opinion, issued late Friday, provides legal guidance for the state Board of Health, and does not require legislative action. But pro-choice advocates accuse Cuccinelli of trying to circumvent the General Assembly, which has considered but failed to pass further restrictions on abortion clinics for at least eight years. …Pro-life legislators — including Cuccinelli who served in the state senate — supported bills that would have treated abortion clinics as ambulatory surgery centers and required them to meet hospital-type regulations with regard to equipment and space.

Currently, abortion clinics are regulated the same way as offices where patients receive oral or plastic surgery.

Abortion providers fear that clinics won’t be able to afford the costs of making the changes and will shut down or increase their prices. [Tarina] Keene [executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia] said if the Board of Health imposes the restrictions, 17 of the 21 abortion providers in the state would most likely have to close their doors.

Putting aside the irony that the Tea Party’s Attorney General is attempting to circumvent the democratic process (i.e. the legislature) and impose new costly mandates on health care providers (the very same kind of mandates he opposes so stringently in the health care law), this maneuver sounds an awful lot like the so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) legislation that’s been passed in states across the country.

TRAP bills impose costly and medically mandates and regulations on abortion providers that are unrelated to women’s health and don’t actually make abortion any safer. Their sole purpose is to down clinics and increase costs. These laws have a particularly pervasive affect on states that already have a shortage of abortion providers, of which Virginia is one. As the National Abortion Federation points out, “Often, the resulting regulations are based on existing hospital guidelines including specific dimensions for procedure rooms and hallways, doorway widths, and complex ventilation systems. Some regulations mandate what types of medical professionals must be on staff, assign certain duties to various staff members or require patient evaluations that are not medically necessary.”

For example, a TRAP law in Mississippi requires that the abortion facility be located in an “attractive” setting. In South Carolina, abortion can only be performed in facilities that keep their outside areas “free of grass that might serve as a haven for insects.” And in Arizona, “there’s a provision that requires that the doctors provide the care that they give in a manner designed to enhance the patient’s self-esteem and self-worth.”

Given that providers have already left states with TARP regulations, Keene’s estimate that 17 of the 21 abortion providers in the state would most likely have to close their doors, seems plausible. And of course for Cuccinelli, that’s precisely the point.

TRAP laws are also very difficult to overturn. Advocates have to prove that the law imposes a “substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortions” and have found little success in the courts. Recently, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld South Carolina’s TRAP law even after pro choice advocates “proved that the law would increase the cost of abortion in the state by an average of $100 per procedure and would close down the only provider in one fairly big geographic area of the state.”


To clarify, Virginia already has a TRAP law that applies to second trimester abortions. The state has not been able to pass a TRAP that applies to clinics that only perform first trimeter abortions.

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