The Washington Post published a great op-ed over the Labor Day weekend in support of Virginia abortion clinics. Why is this noteworthy? Well, anti-choice politicians in the state have decided that it’s of the utmost importance to hold abortion clinics to expensive and unnecessary standards that have nothing to do with patient safety and everything to do with putting clinics out of business.
Before we take a closer look at some of these proposed regulations, consider that the clinics that would be affected only perform first-trimester abortions. These are widely considered to be the safest kind of abortions; in general, first-trimester procedures are done in five to fifteen minutes and require a local anesthesia, as opposed to the more intense twilight or general forms.
Yet for some reason, Virginia politicians have decided that a woman isn’t really safe going for a first-trimester abortion unless her clinic has ceilings that are at least seven feet, ten inches high. Or unless the building has a covered entranceway. Because really, that’s what’s important when it comes to abortion care: ensuring that clinics adhere to the same building requirements that new construction projects must meet.
Apparently, these concerns are so pressing that the Virginia legislature is pulling out all the stops to address them as soon as possible. These kinds of regulatory changes generally take as long as two years to go into effect, but the General Assembly voted earlier this year to ensure that the rules will be written no more than 280 days after the bill is signed into law.
It’s no secret that abortion clinics aren’t exactly flush with cash, and it’s also no secret that building renovations are pretty expensive. According to abortion-rights advocates, if these regulations are signed into law (Governor Bob McDonnell supports the measure), as many as 17 of the state’s 21 clinics could have to close their doors.
Abortion clinics should be held to standards that ensure the safety and well-being of their patients. Every health center, whether a hospital, community clinic, or outpatient surgery center, should have to operate under standards that put the patient first. But if it is so imperative that abortion clinics update their facilities to meet new construction standards, or implement new measures for handling patient records, then why not mandate that every health clinic meet these requirements? Why just single out abortion clinics, if what is really at stake is patient safety?
Or, as the Post so aptly put it:
Regulatory shenanigans and legal sleight of hand should not be used to undermine Virginia women’s constitutionally protected rights by shuttering facilities that have been safely providing such services for decades.
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.