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Peter’s Take: McAuliffe Right on Women’s Health Clinics

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently announced the appointments of five new members to the state Board of Health. He directed the Board to review controversial regulations it adopted to regulate all Virginia women’s health clinics at which first trimester abortions are performed.

Gov. McAuliffe made the right decision.

Background

In 2011, Virginia passed a new law authorizing the Board of Health to adopt stricter regulations for these women’s health clinics. The regulations require the clinics to comply with construction standards used for inpatient hospitals. They force the clinics to have hallways that are of specific widths, provide locker rooms for staff members, new ventilation systems and larger parking lots.

Recognizing that the regulations would cost millions to implement, the Board initially grandfathered existing women’s health clinics from their applicability. The Board’s initial decision was wise when you consider that the new law and regulations do not cover other outpatient facilities, such as those performing oral or plastic surgery, even though the latter facilities engage in medical procedures of comparable risk.

After the Board’s initial decision, the Board came under intense pressure from then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to reverse it. Cuccinelli wrote to Board members, telling them that they had exceeded their authority, and warning them that if they persisted in their decision to grandfather existing clinics, he would not defend them in any subsequent lawsuits. He also warned them that they might be personally liable in any such suits.

Faced with these pressures, the Board reversed itself, and proclaimed that existing clinics would be subject to its new regulations. If the Board sticks to this course, most or all existing clinics are likely to shut down. Five have already closed. When clinics close, women are also denied access to other services, such as testing for sexually transmitted infections and cancer screenings, or they are forced to travel longer distances to get these services.

Cuccinelli’s goal from the beginning was to shut down as many of these clinics as possible.

What’s Next?

The Board could simply vote to re-affirm that no existing clinics are grandfathered. In that case, the clinics and their patients are no worse off than now. The Board could vote to go back to its original decision to grandfather existing clinics. Those who believe the Board lacks power to do that could challenge the Board in court. If such a challenge succeeds, the clinics and their patients again are no worse off than now. But, if such a challenge fails, then the clinics and their patients will be much better off than they are now.

Gov. McAuliffe deserves credit for standing up for women’s health and reproductive choice in Virginia.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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