Americans United for Life provided testimony on June 15 before the Virginia State Board of Health in support of groundbreaking clinic regulations to protect the health and safety of women undergoing first trimester abortions in clinics across the state. In 2011, Virginia adopted temporary abortion clinic regulations for any facilities in which five or more first trimester abortions per month are performed, holding them to standards applicable to “hospitals.” The Board of Health met in June to vote on proposed permanent regulations.

Addressing the board, AUL attorney Evangeline Jones highlighted the critical need for the new regulations, citing women’s health and safety and the rising problems of unsafe abortions. She pointed to the fact that, contrary to their public claims, abortion providers do not foster or maintain a patient-physician relationship with women.

“Abortion is an invasive surgical procedure that can lead to many serious medical complications,” she noted. Therefore, “it is important for the state to act to ensure proper patient care.” Currently, more than half the states maintain specific regulations on clinics and facilities performing abortions. Comprehensive abortion clinic regulations have repeatedly withstood legal challenges from abortion providers.

It had been expected that the Board would pass permanent regulations that would be substantially the same as the temporary rules that took effect in December 2011. In addition to representatives from Americans United for Life and other organizations who urged support for the proposed regulations, the Board heard from dozens of individuals who testified against the health and safety standards, some of whom refused to abide by the Board Chairman’s requests for decorum and respectful behavior.

At the end of the day, the Board voted to make permanent most of the temporary regulations, but they approved, by a vote of 7 to 4, an amendment to “grand­father” existing clinics, exempting these facilities from medical building code standards. At the meeting, abortion providers strongly protested, among other things, the architectural modifications intended to ease access for emergency medical care. They complained about the cost of such modifications, claiming that these medically appropriate standards would force them to shut down and deny women “services.”  In reality, the estimated costs of complying with these standards, in some cases, appear to be modest especially given the annual revenues generated by the clinics and the assets of the abortion industry in Virginia, including Planned Parenthood.

The Virginia Attorney General’s office must now determine whether the amended regulations are constitutional and comply with the Code of Virginia. Certification by the AG’s office of the changes may well be denied on the basis that the Board has no authority to “grandfather” existing clinics under the enabling statute requiring that existing clinics be treated as new clinics, according to attorneys from the AG’s office who advised the board members at the meeting. A re-vote on the regulations resulted in a narrower margin (6 to 5) of approval for the amendment.

If the AG’s office does not certify the regulations, the Board will have another chance to pass legally sufficient protections for women’s health and safety at abortion clinics. If the board’s decision were to be certified, exempting existing abortion clinics from building requirements, such as wide hallways and doorways that enable easier medical emergency access, the clinics would still be subject to regulations requiring more extensive record keeping, an important and now missing source of information about the incidence of abortion and its complications. For this purpose and to help remedy the epidemic of substandard conditions at the nation’s abortion clinics, Americans United for Life has developed the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” a comprehensive model for state abortion clinic regulations, based on national abortion care standards and drawn from AUL’s successful defense of Arizona’s 1999 abortion clinic regulation law.

For more than a decade, Vice President of Legal Affairs Denise Burke has led AUL’s nationwide efforts advocating for meaningful and comprehensive regulation and oversight of abortion clinics across the nation. In addition to leading the defense of Arizona’s abortion clinic regulations before federal courts, Burke, a national expert in the area of abortion clinic regulations, has testified before numerous legislative committees, consulted with dozens of states on legislation, and served as a commentator in the media. She assisted Louisiana in drafting their stringent administrative rules for regulating abortion clinics, which went into effect in 2003 without a legal challenge at a time when virtually every state law seeking to regulate abortion clinics was being challenged in federal court.

To read AUL’s model, go here.