New Regulations: To Stop Abortion, Protect Women, Or Both?

Will the Commonwealth of Virginia be placing new regulations on abortion? Will these regulations make abortion safer, or just rarer?
Will the Commonwealth of Virginia be placing new regulations on abortion? Will these regulations make abortion safer, or just rarer?

President Bill Clinton became known for his mantra, that he wanted abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.” Many, including the Guttmacher Institute [pdf] picked up on this quote, agreeing that most in the abortion-rights crowd want this—they’re not “pro-abortion” because they want it to be both safe and rare, but always legal.

So I’m perplexed when laws are introduced that would make abortion safer—even if it potentially also makes abortion rarer—(all while keeping it 100% legal) that some groups get so up in arms.

Abortion Is Unsafe

To begin, abortion is not safe. This should make the abortion-rights crowd angry in my mind.

Think of Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic, which authorities found to be absolutely disgusting in February of 2010. Alberto Hodari is facing charges for forcing abortions on unwilling women. California abortionist Andrew Rutland has been charged with homicide for the 2009 death of Ying Chen. Just to name a few.

And as Christina Dunigan states on her blog, Real Choice, these aren’t just “a few bad apples”—a number abortionists who have killed patients are members of the seemingly prestigious National Abortion Federation.

Clinics Remain Unregulated

Unfortunately these circumstances don’t come to light often enough. Mostly (I think) it’s because nobody’s looking. Inspectors aren’t going out on a regular basis to check on clinics to make sure they’re sanitary and safe (if they were, do you think it would have taken so long to uncover Gosnell’s pit?).

And even more unfortunately, the laws regulating abortion clinics are so lax that women aren’t protected when they go there for abortions.

As my co-worker John Jansen noted in a 2009 blog post, “Who Keeps An Eye on Abortion Clinics?” abortion clinics don’t have to meet the same standards as other medical facilities—in Illinois they’re even given a special pass!

I see no reason not to protect women by making sure the clinics they go to are safe and clean.

The Battle Rages in Virginia

Yet in Virginia, Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli has written a memo [pdf] giving his opinion on Virginia law—stating that the Virginia Board of Health can regulate abortion facilities–and the pro-aborts are livid.

According to Cuccinelli’s spokesman,

The state has long regulated outpatient surgical facilities and personnel to ensure a certain level of protection for patients… There is no reason to hold facilities providing abortion services to any lesser standard for their patients. Even pharmacies, funeral homes and veterinary clinics are regulated by the state.

But pro-abortion advocates disagree, Julian Walker writes:

Critics of the decision see it as nothing more than a new strategy to curb abortions. Adoption of new rules would require clinics to make costly improvements and force some to close, thereby “eliminating women’s access to abortion and other services, such as birth control and cancer screenings, that these medical facilities provide,” predicted Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

Basically, they could stop offering abortions and keep doing their other services (since places like Planned Parenthood claim abortion is only 3% of their business anyway [pdf]) or they close up shop completely, cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

(Perhaps abortion is a larger, more lucrative component of their services than they would like to admit? hmmm. Notably, Planned Parenthood built their new location to conform with these standards, which they must figure will go into place eventually. They’ll appreciate having less competition, won’t they?)

What Are These Potential Regulations?

Currently the abortion clinics in Virginia are categorized as “doctor’s offices” rather than as “outpatient medical clinics,” which is why they have to follow lesser rules.

These new rules, according to the Times-Dispatch would require “operating rooms be at least 16 feet by 18 feet and that public hallways and stairways be at least 5 feet wide.” If there’s a medical emergency and someone needs to be wheeled out on a gurney, that doesn’t seem really excessive to me…But building codes are admittedly not my area of expertise.

But really, we’re putting the cart before the horse. Despite fear-mongering headlines such as “Cuccinelli-approved rules threaten abortion clinics,” the memo [pdf] merely states “that the Commonwealth has the authority to promulgate regulations” for first-trimester abortion facilities (emphasis added).

Basically the memo says these clinics already have to follow a number of rules given by the Board of Health and the Board of Medicine and that if they want to add a few more—or to define exactly what an abortion clinic is—they can do so.

Maybe it’s still too soon to be screaming that the sky is falling.

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