Maybe it’s the unrelenting heat in our nation’s capital, or maybe they just can’t help themselves, but this week Arizona Rep. Trent Franks and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sank to new depths in their respective crusades to regulate women’s bodies.
In the District, Franks busied himself with pushing an odious bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks for D.C. women through yet another House committee; it will now go to the full House of Representatives for a vote. Franks’ oft-stated rationale for the ban is based on the medically unproven idea that fetuses can feel pain after the 20th week of pregnancy. But he didn’t let that fact get in his way this week, claiming that the scientific consensus behind the idea “is almost universal,” and he also didn’t let the idea of common decency to his colleagues interrupt his grandstanding. Franks refused to let the District’s sole representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, testify at the latest hearing, even though the bill would directly affect her constituents. Perhaps that’s because Norton is staunchly against the measure; her statement on the matter pointed out that the bill is “the first bill ever introduced in Congress that would deny constitutional rights to the citizens of only one jurisdiction in our country. It is also the first bill ever introduced in Congress that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
A few miles to the south, Ken Cuccinelli decided to ignore the recommendation of his state’s own Board of Health, which voted last month that existing abortion clinics did not need to satisfy new and expensive building requirements. This ruling came in response to a bill that was passed last year, which changed the classification of clinics that performed more than five procedures a month to “hospitals” and mandated that clinics undergo a number of costly renovations that had more to do with their physical appearance than anything related to women’s health. At the time, it was estimated that 17 of the state’s 21 clinics would not be able to afford to make those changes.
June’s Board of Health vote meant that while new clinics would not be exempt from the law, existing clinics would be grandfathered in, and would not need to undertake the retrofittings and renovations. Yet Cuccinelli decided that he knew better than the board, and refused to certify the new rules. His rationale was that the board overreached in its ruling, and that the law requires that all facilities meet the new standards.
Except that, as Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate,
Nothing in the new law says anything of the sort. … The Virginia Code expressly gives the board statutory authority to promulgate regulations for health care facilities. The health and safety guidelines for the board are explicitly ‘intended as minimum standards for designing and constructing new health care facility projects,’ not regulating existing ones. Cuccinelli’s representative admitted as much at the June 15 Board of Health meeting.
The regulations will now go before anti-choice Governor Bob McDonnell, before being sent back to the board for further review.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.