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Statement on Board of Health September 14th Vote

"In its vote today to subject women’s health centers that provide abortion to medically unnecessary construction requirements, the Board of Health succumbed to pressure from the ideologically motivated Cuccinelli administration in the most unprecedented move in the Board’s history. This is a terrible day for the women of Virginia – and all of us who object to the partisan politicizing of public health.” – Tarina Keene, chairwoman; executive director, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

For immediate release, September 14, 2012
Contact: Caty Borum Chattoo, 310-927-4752

Virginia Board of Health Votes Against Medical Advice in Today’s Vote to Limit Access to Women’s Health Care in Virginia

Virginia’s public health officials succumb to pressure from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in vote to regulate abortion in Virginia

Richmond, VA, September 14, 2012 – In a vote today that goes against medical counsel, the Virginia Board of Health agreed to subject existing women’s health care centers to building and construction requirements that only apply to new hospital construction; the decision is part of the McDonnell administration’s proposed draft regulations of women’s health care centers that provide first-trimester abortion.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a vocal anti-abortion advocate, will now determine whether or not to certify the Board of Health’s vote. If certified, the regulations will go to Governor McDonnell to approve or reject. This process includes a 60-day public comment period, after which the regulations will go back to the Board of Health for another vote.

By voting to "grandfather in” existing women’s health care centers so that they face forced construction requirements intended only for new facilities, the Board of Health under the McDonnell administration has voted against both medical counsel and the application of the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities, which has been a focal point of the debate over the past year. The Board of Health, under Virginia law, has never applied the building guidelines in this way – in each and every past instance, the Board has applied the guidelines only to new construction.

"Attorney General Cuccinelli has been bullying the Virginia Board of Health with implied threats and use of ‘legal fiction’ to mislead the Board’s members about their own legal authority,” said Kathy Greenier, co-chair of the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health and Director of the ACLU of Virginia’s Women’s Rights Project. "We are now traveling down a very dangerous slippery slope in which political ideology and partisan bullying are dictating medicine and public health in Virginia.”

The new building requirement could cost up to millions of dollars for women’s health care centers and force many of the 20 Virginia women’s health care centers to close. The regulations do not apply to any other outpatient medical service in the commonwealth, including vasectomies, dental surgery, liposuction and more.

The vote represents a substantial shift in the Board of Health’s decision-making about the proposed regulations of first-trimester abortion in Virginia. As its most recent meeting, on June 15, the Board voted to grandfather in existing women’s health care centers as is appropriate under Virginia law. Since then, Governor McDonnell appointed a publicly anti-abortion medical doctor, Dr. John Seeds, to join the Board of Health; Dr. Seeds sits on the board of the anti-abortion advocacy group, The Family Foundation.

On July 16, 2012, a letter from Attorney General Cuccinelli’s office to Dr. Karen Remley, commissioner of the Virginia Dept. of Health, stated that his office refused to certify the Board’s vote in this matter because the Board had "exceeded its authority.” However, the Attorney General’s assertion was wrong. The Board has the legal authority to grandfather in existing women’s health centers and their June vote upheld medical opinion and the appropriate application of the building guidelines.

The regulations were drafted by the Virginia Department of Health, but Attorney General Cuccinelli recommended substantial changes in a process that illustrates a new trend in creating ideologically-driven state law through the regulatory system, despite lack of public approval. When the regulations become law, they will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health, which incorporates counsel from Attorney General Cuccinelli. Despite the administration’s official public statement about "safety and wellbeing of patients” as rationale for the regulations, Attorney General Cuccinelli has stated publicly to at least one pro-life organization that the goal is to "end abortion in America” (see video interview with Pro-Life News from May 8).

An open letter from a group of 177 medical doctors and health professionals in Virginia was published in last week’s Richmond-Times Dispatch; in the letter, the authors state that they "appeal to the Board to resist these outside influences and urge the Board to make its decision on the basis of impartial, professional and scientific information… It is about the Virginia Board of Health as an independent, objective, public health advisory group that acts with impartiality in weighing scientific evidence. We must not travel down a dangerous slippery slope where we allow political forces to dictated medical care.”

More information can be found at the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health website, www.coalitionforwomenshealth.org, and on Twitter @vacoalitionwh and Facebook.com/virginiacoalitiontoprotectwomenshealth.

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The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health formed in 2011 as a response to the attack on women’s health and safety prompted by Senate Bill 924. The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health strives to protect and ensure access for all women in all regions of Virginia to safe first-trimester abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care services. The Coalition is committed to ensuring any regulations are based solely on medical and public health considerations. The Coalition is opposed to excessive, burdensome or unneeded regulations that undermine patient access to medical care for political or ideological purposes. Members, partners and allies include: ACLU of Virginia, Annandale Women and Family Center, Center for Reproductive Rights, Falls Church Healthcare Center, Feminist Majority Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, National Abortion Federation, NOVA Women’s Healthcare, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, Progress Virginia, Richmond Medical Center for Women, Virginia NOW, and Virginia Organizing.

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