Virginia is set to implement controversial new abortion clinic restrictions that could force many of the facilities in the state to shut down — a popular anti-choice tactic that indirectly undermines women’s access to reproductive care by targeting abortion providers. After Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) quietly approved the new regulations on the Friday between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the state’s Board of Health will have the power to decide whether or not to adopt them on April 12.
Before then, however, thousands of Virginia residents are raising their voices in protest. Spearheaded by ProgressVA and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, women’s health advocates delivered over 3,000 public comments opposing the new abortion restrictions to the Board of Health on Thursday. The public comment period ends on Friday, and opponents of the new policy hope they can make an impact by expressing the same message with each of the thousands of comments: “Put women’s health above politics. Don’t let red tape trap women.”
The reference to “trapping women” is a nod to the fact that women’s health advocates refer to these types of restrictions as TRAP laws, or the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. Targeting abortion clinics and providers, rather than pushing for outright bans on the abortion procedure itself, allows the anti-choice community to avoid inciting as much public outrage — which helps their efforts fly mostly under the radar.
At Thursday’s event, ProgressVA’s executive director, Anna Scholl, urged the state’s board to put women’s health before politics. “These regulations should be based on evidence-based medicine, not political agendas,” Scholl pointed out.
In fact, even though health boards are intended to operate as nonpartisan medical bodies, Virginia’s proposed TRAP laws have sparked an intensely politicized battle in the state. Reports have emerged that State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) essentially threatened Virginia’s Board into approving the new restrictions by warning members they could be denied state-funded legal services if they voted against them. And last fall, Virginia health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley resigned from her position in protest over the proposed TRAP laws, citing her disapproval of the unnecessary abortion clinic restrictions as the primary reason she could no longer lead the Board “in good faith.”
If the Board of Health approves the final rules next month, they will likely take effect this summer. Many of Virginia’s 20 abortion clinics will likely be forced to close their doors when they are unable to adhere to the costly, complicated new rules.