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What are the Permanent Regulations?

Women’s health centers in Virginia have been providing safe, accessible, comprehensive reproductive health care for almost forty years. Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures available in the United States today. These restrictions single out the health care professionals who provide abortion care, and the patients who seek abortion, for medically-unnecessary restrictions that have nothing to do with the safe delivery of services for women and everything to do with legislators’ efforts to deny women access to reproductive health care. 

 

Regulations Affecting Patient Access to Safe, Legal Reproductive Health Care

Architectural Requirements for Buildings

The permanent new rules require existing women’s health centers to come into compliance with three chapters of a manual called the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities within the next two years. However, these Guidelines are intended to apply only to new construction, not to existing facilities,[1]and this is how they are applied to every other health care facility in Virginia. These extensive, burdensome construction requirements have no relation to the safety of the services that women’s health centers provide.

Imposing the massive costs of compliance with this medically-unnecessary regulation on women’s health centers, regardless of whether it will actually provide any benefit for patient safety and well-being, underscores the extent to which these regulations are about politics and not health. VDH estimates that complying with this regulation could force women’s health centers to spend over $2.5 million.

Abortion is already difficult to access in the Commonwealth. In 2011, 92% of Virginia counties have no women’s health center that provides abortion. 78% of Virginia women lived in these counties..

 

Regulations Affecting Patient and Provider Safety and Confidentiality

Safety Concerns

Abortion providers are often the targets of violence by anti-abortion extremists, who seek out information about health center ownership and policies in order to harass and intimidate abortion providers. The well-documented history of harassment and violence directed against the health care professionals who provide abortion care makes it clear that stringent confidentiality protections should be a part of the permanent regulations, to make sure that sensitive information about the health care facility can’t get into the wrong hands. But these regulations contain no such protections. The restrictions give the Department of Health the right to request all ownership information and many types of women’s health center policies and procedures, such as security plans, without any requirement that these documents be kept confidential.

Patient Confidentiality

Confidentiality is of paramount importance to patients and women’s health centers. Patients are targeted for harassment outside of women’s health centers and there is a history of anti-choice activists seeking patient information in order to deter women from obtaining vital reproductive health care.

However, the current restrictions leave several important loopholes in the protections for patient confidentiality. For example, the restrictions allow inspectors to remove patient records from the facility, rather than requiring them to examine the records onsite, and allow inspectors to request a list of all current patients.



[1] The Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities, published by the Facility Guidelines Institute and formerly published by the American Institute of Architects, and relied on by many regulatory agencies in creating new regulations for health care facilities, are "intended as minimum standards for designing and constructing new health care facility projects.” Facility Guidelines Institute, Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities 4 (2010). They are not intended to apply to existing facilities, except to the extent that those facilities are in the process of undergoing significant renovation. In those circumstances, the Guidelines specify that "renovation projects and additions to existing facilities, only that portion of the total facility affected by the project shall be required to comply with the applicable section of these Guidelines.” Id. at 6