Last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing a new state law imposing overly rigorous licensing standards on abortion providers pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed by two doctors who perform abortions in the state. Proponents of the new standards — which are far more stringent and specific than what the state currently requires of hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers — argued that stricter licensing requirements would help improve women’s safety, even though the health department issued the new rules hastily, without independently compiling data or studies on how the standards “would make the procedures safer for the women seeking them.” The goal of the licensing law is to regulate abortion clinics out of existence, and that’s precisely what lawmakers in Virginia are now trying to accomplish.
This spring, the General Assembly passed a similar measure, requiring the state’s Board of Health to adopt new regulations “in an unprovoked ‘emergency’ process that bypasses the normal public notice and comment periods for changes in state regulations, and reduces opportunities for input from the trained professionals at the state agencies who know the most about the issues at hand.” As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, the draft rules will be released on Friday:
The new rules are mandated to follow an amended Republican-backed bill, Senate Bill 924, which narrowly passed the General Assembly this year on a tie-breaking vote cast by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Anti-abortion advocates at the time hailed it as a victory for women’s health, while abortion-rights advocates said the law — which compels the board to regulate the clinics like hospitals — is really a move to close the clinics, considering it would compel them to undergo retrofitting of their facilities that most could not afford.
Currently the clinics, which handle only first-trimester abortions, are subject to the same regulations as physician practices that perform any number of invasive procedures, such as cataract surgery; colonoscopies; ear, nose and throat procedures; spinal taps; and dental and plastic surgery. Abortion-rights advocates say the new regulations would threaten the closure of 15 or more of the clinics because of the costs involved in retro-fitting their facilities to meet the new requirements.
The state also has more than 40 independent obstetrics and gynecology clinics that would be subject to the regulations if they perform five or more abortions a month.
As Dr. James Kenley, the former commissioner of health in Virginia, explains, the rules “will propose emergency regulations to require abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards of care, even though abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available in this country and is already heavily controlled by state and federal regulations.” It is also difficult to access in the Commonwealth, “with 86 percent of Virginia’s counties lacking any abortion providers at all.” “The new regulations could make abortions both harder to get and more expensive, possibly taking us back to something akin to that time I recall with such great dismay, when every abortion was a health risk,” Kenley warns.