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Sanctity Of Life

VCA Pushes for Common Sense Abortion Clinic Safety Standards

Rita Dunaway, Virginia Christian Alliance Vice President for Public Policy, writes to the Virginia State Health Commission to encourage the Board to adopt Regulations that require design and commonsense safety and sanitary procedures for abortion clinics.

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"Defending America's Christian Heritage"

  April 11, 2013    Via Electronic Mail to healthcommissioner@vdh.virginia.gov    

Dr. Cynthia Romero, State Health Commissioner
Virginia Department of Health
P.O. Box 2448
Richmond, VA 23218-2448 

Re:         Abortion Clinic Regulations

Dear Dr. Romero and Members of the Board:

I am writing to express the support of Virginia Christian Alliance (VCA) for the abortion clinic safety regulations that the Board is currently considering. VCA is a non-profit organization which seeks to impact Virginia through well-reasoned, respectful advocacy and education on public policy issues and by challenging Christians to engage the culture and serve their communities.

We are aware that opponents of these regulations have made emotional pleas to the Board to reject the regulations because their passage could cause some existing facilities to close their doors. This is an argument which would never even be raised but for the political, moral, and legal controversy surrounding the issue of abortion. A Board whose focus is public health and safety would never accept, for instance, that a hospital should be exempt from infection control standards because it has an infection control problem and therefore must invest in improvements in order to meet the standards. Rather, if the standards themselves are reasonable and appropriate, we would consider the request for exemption on this basis to actually reinforce the need for implementation of the standards. In short, health and safety regulations should be no less stringent than reasonably necessary simply because abortion is a sensitive issue and some abortion providers will be impacted financially.

It is telling that national standards promulgated by groups such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood already include standards for the design and construction of abortion clinics, including requirements that examining rooms contain sterilization facilities; alarm systems be in place; procedure rooms be large enough to accommodate a stretcher or gurney; post-procedure recovery rooms and dressing rooms be available; operating tables be located in rooms of adequate dimensions, illumination, and ventilation; procedure rooms have doors wide enough to accommodate a stretcher or wheelchair, etc.[1] Many of the proposed construction standards simply address these same concerns. If it is the case that any existing facilities in Virginia have failed to comply with the standards imposed by these non-partisan professional associations, then both the Board and the public ought to be gravely concerned about the safety of current facilities. This would be even more reason for the Board to require swift compliance with the regulations.

While there is no logical reason to be lenient in regulating abortion facilities’ safety simply because of the controversy surrounding the procedure, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have found that the peculiar nature of abortion justifies standards that are more stringent than those imposed on other medical facilities. The Supreme Court has noted that “abortions are inherently different from other medical procedures…”2 This is why federal courts have repeatedly affirmed that states have a legitimate interest in regulating abortion clinics more stringently than other medical facilities. Abortion is different, the Supreme Court has found, “because no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life.”3

Moreover, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, whose decisions are binding on all federal courts in Virginia, has specifically upheld a set of South Carolina regulations that required existing abortion clinics to come into compliance with construction standards within two years of licensure.4 In doing so, the Fourth Circuit pointed out that the Supreme Court has decided, in other contexts, that abortion providers may be treated differently from providers of other healthcare services because, again, abortion is inherently different. For instance, the Supreme Court has allowed states to impose distinct record-keeping and informed consent requirements on abortion providers that significantly differ from those imposed on providers of arguably comparable healthcare services.5

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the enabling statutes mandating the Board to regulate clinics specifically allow the Board to classify hospitals by type of service and to create licensure requirements on that basis.6 The Code thus clearly contemplates a system whereby the regulations applicable to different facilities may be different.

The law leaves no doubt that the Board has the authority to require existing abortion clinics to comply with minimum construction standards. Therefore, on behalf of VCA, I ask that you make your decision tomorrow on the basis of the important public health and safety interests at stake rather than the impassioned pleas or threats of lawsuits by those who benefit financially from lenient regulations that may endanger women’s health and safety.

Sincerely yours,

Rita_Dunaway_Esq

Rita M. Dunaway, Esq.

Vice President for Public Policy

 

cc:           Governor Bob McDonnell

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

 

[1] See, e.g., Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 878 (1992) (“As with any medical procedure, the State may enact regulations to further the health or safety of a woman seeking an abortion.”); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 150 (1973) (recognizing legitimate state interest in seeing that abortion is performed under circumstances that maximize patient safety); Greenville Women’s Clinic v. Bryant, 222 F.3d 157 (4th Cir. 2000) (reversing lower court’s holding that clinic safety regulations were unconstitutional), cert. denied 531 U.S. 1131 (2001).

[1] 222 F.3d at 168.
2 Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 325 (1980).
3 Id.
4Greenville Women’s Clinic v. Bryant, 222 F.3d 157 (4th Cir. 2000) (reversing lower court’s holding that clinic safety regulations were unconstitutional), cert. denied 531 U.S. 1131 (2001).
5 Id. (quoting Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, 80-81 (1976)).
6 Va. Code § 31.1-127(B)(3).

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