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 care is one of the safest surgical procedures available in the United States today. These regulations single out the health care professionals who provide abortion care, and the patients who seek abortion care, for arbitrary and burdensome 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,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 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.
Early abortion care is already difficult to access in the Commonwealth, with 85 percent of Virginia’s counties lacking any abortion providers. The Virginia Department of Health should be adopting measures to make abortion care, and all other forms of health care, more readily accessible, rather than imposing this kind of arbitrary burden on select providers of health care.
Regulations Affecting Patient and Provider Safety and Confidentiality
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 regulations 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.
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 regulations leave several important loopholes in the protections for patient confidentiality. For example, the regulations 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.
 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