By REGINA WEISS
Laws recently passed in the Senate could place new safety regulations on women’s health clinics that provide abortions, causing controversy throughout Virginia over the threat of limited access to abortion services.
On Wednesday, Oct. 12, University of Mary Washington students met in Jepson Hall for a forum to discuss these new regulations, called Targeted Regulations against Abortion Providers (TRAP).
Senior Anna Halbrooks-Fulks and sophomore Claire Pickard led the forum.
Kathy Greenier, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Women’s Rights project also attended to help answer questions.
The goal of the forum was to educate students on TRAP and the tertiary purpose is a call to action; we want students to get involved in this issue, said Greenier.
Opening the forum, Pickard said, “We feel that it is important to provide a means for students to share their thoughts on a bill that looks to significantly impact our lives on a very personal level.”
The Virginia Senate health committee voted in February to amend a bill that requires the Board of Health to issue regulations related to infection prevention and disaster preparedness for hospitals, nursing homes and certified nursing facilities.
Amendments to the bill include a provision that classifies facilities with five or more first trimester abortions performed per month in a category of hospitals according to a presentation given at the forum.
UMW sophomore Erin Taylor supports these regulations.
“It makes sense that abortion clinics, where women undergo surgical procedures, should have regulations similar to those of hospitals and other medical facilities,” Taylor said.
According to the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health, the provision passed in the Senate after a 20-20 vote split, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling as the tiebreaker.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the bill into law. However, the governor has not yet signed off on the regulations.
The law will go into effect in January, if McDonnell approves the regulations proposed by the Board of Health.
It requires that women’s health centers obtain a new license to stay in operation, according to the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.
In order to obtain this license they must adhere to specific architectural requirements, such as five-feet wide hallways and exam rooms with a clear floor of 80 feet, according to the Board of Health.
The law also requires women’s health centers to be registered as Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASC), which are normally facilities that perform a variety of outpatient services.
These clinics will have to raise their health standards because of the amount of work they are doing, according to Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.
The ASC requirements become a burden for abortion providers, since they only perform one type of surgery, according to the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.
“Every clinic is going to have to figure out for themselves what exactly they’re going to be able to comply with,” Greenier said.
Included in the laws are clinic inspections by the Department of Health.
“The Department of Health will be able to enter the facility at any time and have access to unredacted patient records, they’ll have a list of the current patients…they’ll have the ability really to approach anyone in the clinic at that time,” Greenier said.
The officials must show their identification and if records are removed, the names and addresses of patients must be redacted.
“Curiously, they didn’t include phone numbers,” Greenier pointed out, creating “regulatory language that is only partially protective.”
Many in support of these regulations said they are very important to protect women’s health during abortion procedures.
“More sanitary conditions will reduce the risk of complications and more spacious buildings will make it easier to reach women in the case of an emergency,” said Taylor.
In 2006, 846,181 abortions in the United States were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year, six women died as a result of complications from abortions, according to the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health.
According to the CDC, complications are rare, and “range from 0.3 percent to two percent of abortions performed,” according to the presentation used at the forum.
Annie Truslow, UMW senior and president of Feminists United on Campus (FUC), said that it is “popular opinion that’s fueling the regulations because it’s clearly statistically and medically unsound to have these [regulations].”
Taylor argues that, “the regulations are positive and beneficial to the safety of women.”
Halbrooks-Fulks noted, “The most common complications from an abortion, none of these regulations address at all.”
“You won’t a get a blood clot if they have wider hallways,” Pickard said jokingly.