At a long, fascinating, raucous and intense meeting of the Virginia Board of Health today, health and safety standards for Virginia's abortion centers advanced to the next stage in the process of creating permanent regulations, but not before it voted 7-4 to exempt existing centers from medical building code standards. Its decision to do so came despite legal advice from the Attorney General's office that they had no authority to take such action. In a room packed with pro-abortion protestors that resembled a meeting of Occupy Richmond, dozens of people testified against the health and safety standards. Some, such as representatives of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — who claimed to represent "every OB/GYN in Virginia" and incredibly said the blatantly pro-abortion organization was neutral on abortion — declared that abortion is "safe" and in no need of regulation. This despite absolutely no official record keeping of complications or deaths associated with abortion and recent episodes of botched abortions. Many of the usual suspects, from the ACLU to NARAL lined up to challenge the standards, often accusing supporters of "imposing their political agenda" on abortion, etc.
Perhaps the most fascinating and oft-repeated argument was that the regulations amounted to a "violation of the separation of church and state"! Somehow anyone who actually believes that the abortion industry should meet minimal health and safety standards can only do so if they are motivated by their faith, and that if they are, they don't have the same citizenship rights to influence the political process as do other Americans. The tone of many of the opponents often was very disrespectful and angry, and certainly not "tolerant" of opposing viewpoints.
The atmosphere of the room was extraordinarily hostile, as those speaking in favor of the health and safety standards were often hissed by some in the crowd and protesters were allowed to hold up signs and often made rude comments, despite the Board chairman's repeated efforts to bring decorum and respect to the meeting. Despite the attempt at intimidation, staff from The Family Foundation, the Virginia Catholic Conference, Americans United For Life, Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, Family Research Council and the Virginia Society for Human Life testified to the need to bring Virginia's abortion industry into the medical mainstream. We pointed to several cases in recent months of abortion center operators having medical licenses suspended or worse, and yet still being allowed to run their "safe" centers.
After the morning public comment period, during nearly four hours of afternoon debate over multiple amendments offered by pro-abortion members of the Board, the most substantive change was the "grandfathering" of existing abortion centers so they do not have to make structural changes like adequate doorways and hallways that would allow emergency personnel to get a gurney into a center during a medical emergency. This could likely be the most costly of the regulations, but considering that Planned Parenthood is a $1 billion organization, a few building changes shouldn't be much of a problem.
At this point, the amended regulations go to the Attorney General's office to be certified as constitutional and meeting the demands of the Code of Virginia. If the AG's office does not certify them, which is very likely due to the dispute over the Board's authority, they will go back to the Board for another vote. Late in the day a motion to reconsider the earlier vote failed 6-5, but one member who originally voted for the amendment supported the reconsideration and others indicated concerns that they did not have the authority to pass the amendment.
After a very, very long day, the good news is that, regardless of the vote today, it isn't the final step in a long process. If the AG doesn't certify, they go back to the Board for another vote, back to the AG and once certified, onto the Department of Planning and Budget, Secretary of Health and Human Resources and Governor's office.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks, when permanent regulations go into effect, likely sometime next year, Virginia will have health and safety standards for the abortion industry for the first time in more than two decades. We are confident those regulations will be the strongest possible.
A large media contingent likely motivated the circus-like behavior of the pro-abortion contingent at the Board of Health meeting.