Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is ordering a review of the medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics that the state’s health board approved in 2012, a policy that has already forced five of Virginia’s 23 health clinics to close their doors. At a press conference on Monday, McAuliffe said he’s troubled by the new rules’ potential political motivation, as well as their negative impact on women’s ability to access to the health services they need.
“I am concerned that the extreme and punitive regulations adopted last year jeopardize the ability of most women’s health centers to keep their doors open and place in jeopardy the health and reproductive rights of Virginia women,” the governor said.
State regulations are typically reviewed every four years, but McAuliffe’s announcement on Monday ensures that process will begin sooner for the rule related to abortion clinics. He also noted that he’s already replaced five of the health board’s 15 appointees, helping to move the influential state body toward a different approach on women’s health. He’ll be able to make subsequent appointments in 2015 and 2016.
Under the current rule, abortion clinics must adhere to the same building codes as hospitals, which requires them to make costly updates like widening their hallways and updating their ventilation systems. If clinics can’t afford those renovations, they’re essentially forced out of business. These type of policies fit into a larger national strategy to shutter abortion clinics, and are commonly referred to as the “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers,” or TRAP.
McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign relied on a woman’s health platform, and he promised to be “a brick wall” to prevent the state legislature from imposing any more attacks on reproductive rights. Although Monday’s move doesn’t immediately undo the damage to women’s health that’s been done over the past several years, it’s the first step in that direction.
Reproductive rights groups celebrated the news, which also included details about the governor’s plans to increase Virginia women’s access to affordable medications and free HIV testing.
“I am absolutely thrilled to see Governor McAuliffe take this bold and critical stand for the women and families of Virginia,” Tarina Keene, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said in a statement. “For too long we have seen Virginia women targeted with extreme and ideological attacks — and women’s health used as a pawn in political games.”
Cianti Stewart-Reid, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, added that the governor’s new appointments to the Board of Health send a clear message that McAuliffe will value state regulations that are based on health and safety, not rooted in a political opposition to abortion. “This much-needed change in leadership will result in members who believe in access to reproductive health care,” she noted.
Virginia’s state legislature continues to be dominated by Republicans. Earlier this year, several measures were introduced in an attempt to roll back the state’s abortion restrictions, including a mandatory ultrasound requirement that sparked a national outcry when it was introduced in 2012. But both failed in the GOP-controlled House. Republicans in power have also continued to block Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, a policy that the women’s health groups in the state are pushing for.