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Legal, Yes. But Safe and Rare?

By September 3, 2010Sanctity of Life, Virginia
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Abortion lobbyists in Virginia are throwing a fit over Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s legal opinion that abortion facilities can legally be held to the same health and safety standards as other outpatient facilities. Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, issued a statement saying, “Abortion providers in Virginia are currently regulated in the same way as other medical facilities that provide outpatient services.” This is misleading.

Virginia law defines a hospital as “any facility in which the primary function is the provision of diagnosis, treatment, and of medical and nursing services, surgical or non-surgical, for two or more unrelated individuals, including outpatient surgical [hospitals].” Clinics that perform other health services along with abortions already comply with this law, but the majority of abortion providers do not.

Virginia Code does not require that first-trimester abortions be preformed in licensed hospitals. So, the majority of the state’s 21 abortion facilities skirt outpatient facility regulations by defining themselves as “physicians’ offices.” Keene states that this effort “would single out abortion clinics,” but it’s pretty clear that abortion clinics singled themselves out by dodging this oversight.

Keene has estimated that outpatient facility regulations could force 17 of the state’s 21 abortion facilities to close and that it will cost nearly two million dollars for them to comply with these most basic health and safety standards – most of which also apply to veterinary clinics. If this is the case, then it says a lot about the poor condition and lax practices of those abortion clinics.

The public deserves to know exactly what the abortion lobby is running from. Among what Keene calls “onerous and unnecessary restrictions” and “regulatory hoops” are professional requirements for medical and nursing staff, ensuring the availability of sterile supplies, the appropriate use of anesthesia, and keeping accurate medical records and providing them to the state in a timely manner. But most importantly, the regulations require basic emergency back-up equipment, 36-inch wide doorways and hallways wide enough to accommodate a gurney.

Is it too much to ask “safe and legal” abortion providers to allow efficient evacuation of a patient to an emergency room when the most common complications of abortions include hemorrhaging, uterine perforation, bowl and bladder injury, cervical laceration, and infection?

The women of Virginia deserve better, and the State Health Commissioner and the Board of Health should move swiftly to bring all facilities performing invasive procedures up to these basic health and safety requirements or shut them down.