Doctors, Women's Health Advocates Applaud Opinion on Law Governing Abortion Restrictions

Legal opinion advises that Virginia law gives Board of Health authority to exempt existing health centers from medically-inappropriate building restrictions

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
May 4, 2015 5:30 pm

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RICHMOND, VA – The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health applauded the formal legal opinion issued this morning by Attorney General Mark Herring advising that Virginia law does not give the Board of Health the authority to retroactively apply medically-unnecessary architectural restrictions to currently existing women’s health centers. The opinion reverses incorrect advice given to the Board of Health in 2012 by then-Attorney General Cuccinelli, who defied legal precedent in stating that the Board must apply design-and-construction standards meant for new facilities to pre-existing facilities. These design-and-construction standards are the most burdensome of statewide targeted restrictions on abortion providers (also known as TRAP restrictions) that have been widely opposed by the Virginia medical community.

Since being enacted, three of Virginia women’s health centers have closed or stopped offering abortion, in part, due to TRAP. Over 10,500 advocates, doctors, and medical professionals urged the Virginia Department of Health last year to amend these restrictions.

“I am pleased that the Attorney General has issued corrected legal guidance clarifying that existing women’s health centers should not be subject to regulations for new medical facilities,” said Dr. Wendy Klein, a Richmond internist, professor emeritus, and national expert in Women’s Health. “We all share a commitment to ensuring patient health and safety, but that has never been the goal of these targeted restrictions. First trimester abortions are proven to be among the safest of medical procedures, and the regulations must be updated to reflect both the safety record and evidence-based medical protocols.”

“I am very pleased to learn that concerns expressed by myself and other members of the Regulatory Advisory Panel regarding the regulations were heard,” said Dr. Serina Floyd, MD. “As a provider of abortion care in Northern Virginia, I am even more pleased that there will now be an opportunity to actually bring the regulations more in line with evidence based medicine and best practice, which will only benefit the women we serve.”

“There was no credible legal basis for the former Attorney General’s assertion that the Board does not have the authority to issue a regulation that excepts existing women’s health care facilities from meeting construction and building codes adopted after they were built,” said Kathy Greenier, Director of the ACLU of Virginia’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “We welcome the correction of that deeply flawed legal analysis that resulted in the imposition of medically unnecessary and financially burdensome requirements that would drive abortion providers out of business,” Greenier added. “We urge the Commissioner and the Board of Health to follow the opinion, use science and sound legal analysis to guide future regulatory decisions, and treat women’s health centers the same as other existing health care facilities have consistently been treated when applying new rules and construction standards,” Greenier concluded.

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