Department of Health

Watch What The Media Doesn't Want You To See . . .

Yesterday was the midpoint of the 2013 General Assembly session, and a lot has happened so far this year. Some of it you may have read about in the newspaper or seen on the news, but a lot you have not. For several years, in an effort to bring you the most comprehensive information about what happens at the General Assembly, we have videotaped key debates in both sub- and full committee meetings (see our YouTube channel). At a meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee earlier in session, at least one capitol reporter seemed a bit put off by our efforts. As one of our staff members set up our camera in the committee room, in the same place we've set it up for several years, one senior reporter asked her for whom she worked. Upon hearing that she was with The Family Foundation, he chastised her saying, "You can’t do that here. You aren't credentialed press." A quick conversation with a Capitol Police officer made it clear to the reporter that committee hearings are public meetings and we can videotape them if we want.

So, it would appear that either the reporter had forgotten that our government's actions are open to the public or, perhaps, he's a bit intimidated by the fact that the media narrative is going to be challenged by the video showing exactly what happened, not how he and his colleagues describe it in in their "stories" and "articles." Of course, maybe he just didn't want his view blocked (though our camera was right next to a large post so we wouldn't block anyone's view).

Perhaps some of the issue is that our video exposes their media myths. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch article about the Ed and Health meeting — and specifically the debate over abortion center health and safety standards — one reporter wrote:

Both sides in the abortion debate packed the hearing room with advocates of the same arguments they've used to battle each other for the past two years.

Except, that's not at all accurate. As you will see watching the video, we used material from Department of Health inspection reports that show wide spread health and safety violations at Virginia's abortion centers — something the Times-Dispatch simply refuses to cover — material that was available just this past summer. It is new evidence we obtained from the department this past summer and last month via Freedom of Information Act requests and proves why we needed the health and safety standards. It is evidence we didn't have prior to the regulations, so we couldn't have used it "to battle each other for the past two years."

Even if we obstructed some reporters' views, we didn't affect their hearing, yet the media reported we offered no new information on the abortion center safety standards debate. It is clear we had new evidence of numerous violations not previously available to the public. (The new evidence is presented at about 5:50 into the video.)

We've said for the past year that there are some capitol reporters who have exchanged reporting for opining and, in particular, have driven some of the hysteria surrounding pro-life legislation. They've ignored or dismissed the facts about what's happening in Virginia's abortion centers, and they have little interest in balance.

Many journalists in Richmond still do great work and are fair, balanced and hard workers, while several clearly have allowed their bias to affect their work. All the more reason for our being here — years ago we accounted for the reasons the changing media landscape demanded we be here — and for you to watch the video and to share it with others.

Truths And Facts About The Abortion Industry: What It Doesn't Want You To Know

Last week and the week before, in the run-up to the vote by the Virginia Board of Health's vote to approve abortion center regulations drafted by the Department of Health, we posted on our Facebook page and tweeted one truth or fact per day about the abortion industry in order to cut through the misinformation pumped out by its well funded and powerful lobby. Below, we have reconstituted them, added four more, expanded on others, and provided a couple of reference links as we continue to provide more information about the nefarious abortion industry and as public sentiment continues to grow in favor of these common sense measures — even though the Mainstream Media continues its pandering to the pro-abortion side (see The Daily Press as an example). Speaking of Facebook and Twitter, this is a good time to remind you that if you do not follow us on those social media networks yet, be sure to join us there and remind others you think would be interested. We post exclusive content there, link to newly written blog posts, announce breaking news from state government and politics, capitol square, the General Assembly and important regulatory meetings, as well as provide Family Foundation, grassroots activist and pastors updates. Click here to join us on Facebook and click here to follow us on Twitter.

Truths and Facts about the abortion industry:

Truth: Waivers available through regulations give abortion centers ability to make a case to the Department of Health that some construction standards are not necessary for the procedure.

Fact: The abortion industry claims it self regulates, but the National Abortion Federation standards allow non-physicians to perform surgical abortions!

Truth: During the last three General Assembly sessions, the abortion industry rejected "regulation lite" — just an annual inspection, licensing and emergency equipment. It simply does not want even the slightest independent oversight. (See Thomas Peters at LiveAction.org's blog.)

Fact: Currently, a woman who wants to report a medical complication resulting from an abortion must give up her privacy.

Truth: The abortion industry claims it is safe, but there is absolutely no way to know. It has blocked efforts to require reporting of medical complications due to abortion.

Fact: In Arizona, the legislature called the abortion industry's bluff, and codified the abortion industry's supposed self-governing regulations. The abortion industry immediately sued Arizona!

Truth: Planned Parenthood is a $1 billion industry (see Lisa Grass at LiveAction). It can easily afford the cost of the regulations to its facilities.

Fact: Abortion center regulations are not politically motivated. The Department of Health that drafted them is directed by an appointee by former Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat.

Truth: Opposition to abortion has and always will be bi-partisan. Of the 12 votes in last week's 12-1 vote by the Board of Health to approve the Department of Heath's abortion center regulations, three were by appointees of former Governor Kaine. (A fourth was the lone dissenting vote and not one of his amendments received a seconding motion.)

Fact: Of the 15 board members, nine are Republican appointees and six are Democrats (two did not attend). 

Fact: Planned Parenthood says abortion is only a small part of its business, that it offers a full range of medical services — even to men. If so, then how can abortion center regulations put them out of business?

Urge Support Of Abortion Center Safety Regulations

Late Friday afternoon, the Department of Health released its proposed regulations for Virginia's abortion centers. The regulations are now available for public review by clicking here (scroll to page 25). The Board of Health will vote on the proposed regulations at its meeting September 15.

It is imperative that you contact the Board of Health and urge them to pass the regulations!

While we understand that this is only the first step in a long process, we believe that the regulations presented to the Board of Health by medical experts at the Department of Health would sufficiently improve the health and safety of Virginia's abortion centers.

The proposed regulations would improve the health and safety standards by providing for regular and unannounced inspections of abortion centers. Until now, abortion centers operated outside the mainstream of the medical community with little or no state supervision. The regulations also require standards regarding medical personnel like requiring that the doctor stay on premises until a woman is actually ready to be discharged, improved sanitary conditions, and emergency equipment for cardiac arrest, seizure, respiratory distress and other critical medical situations. Abortion centers would also have to be built, or improved within two years, to meet medical standards appropriate for the procedure. If these regulations threaten Virginia's abortion centers, one has to wonder just how bad things have been. Abortion centers will also have to report deaths of patients resulting from abortion procedures.

Of course, the abortion industry has responded with hyperbole, misinformation and fear tactics (see Washington Post). Planned Parenthood and NARAL are urging pro-abortion Virginians to contact the Board of Health to vote against these reasonable, common sense measures. They are well motivated and unified in their opposition to any and all regulations. It is essential that the Board hear from pro-life Virginians!

It is important to remember that the abortion industry just this year rejected legislation that would have required only licensing, inspections and emergency equipment. It is clear from its rejection of that legislation and these common sense regulations that they oppose any and all efforts by the Commonwealth to ensure women's health and safety in their abortion centers. Their predictable and short sighted response reveals that they do not take the health of women in Virginia seriously.

Please contact the Board of Health and please forward this information to as many of your pro-life friends as possible! The Board of Health needs to hear from you. It is important that our e-mails to the board be reasoned and thoughtful. Let's leave the harsh rhetoric to the supporters of the abortion industry.

Anyone wishing to submit written comments for the public comment file may do so by mail, e-mail or fax to Joseph Hilbert, Director of Governmental and Regulatory Affairs, 109 Governor Street, Richmond, VA 23219, or 804-864-7022 (fax); or e-mail by clicking here. Written comments must include your name and address. In order to be considered, comments must be received by the last day of the public comment period, which is September 15.

BREAKING: Abortion Center Regs Released

Late this afternoon the Department of Health released proposed regulations for Virginia's abortion centers. You can read the regulations by clicking here, then scroll to page 25.

The Family Foundation will reserve comment on the regulations until we've had time to adequately review them.

Abortion Center Safety Passes Senate On Lt. Governor Bolling’s Tie-Breaker Vote!

After a long and passionate Senate floor debate that spanned a few hours over two days, the Virginia Senate voted 20-20 this afternoon to direct the Department of Health to promulgate regulations for abortion centers. After a brief pause for the Senate clerk to announce the vote, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling cast his constitutionally authorized tie-breaking vote in favor of the bill. It now will go to Governor Bob McDonnell for his signature. After more than two decades of hiding behind a veil of political secrecy, abortion centers in Virginia will face greater scrutiny and better health standards. It was the first time ever that such legislation has even reached the Senate floor, despite numerous bills passed by the House. Each year, including earlier this session, the Senate kills the legislation in committee. But all 18 Republicans held together and two brave pro-life Democrats, Senators Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) and Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas), resisted pressure from their caucus' leadership.

While the session has gone according to script this year, with the House passing and the Senate Education and Health Committee killing pro-life legislation, a dramatic turn occurred only a few days ago, in last days of session. SB 924, patroned by Senator Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover), which directs the Board of Health to promulgate regulations for certain health care facilities, passed the Senate and went to the House of Delegates. Delegate Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg) offered an amendment to add abortion centers. Liberals challenged its germaneness, but after consulting with his parliamentarian, House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Stafford) ruled it in order and the House passed it overwhelmingly. That change required it to return to the Senate where the GOP caucus began to coalesce around the amendment. The vote was scheduled yesterday, but after a half-hour of debate it was passed by until today. Senate Democrat leaders pressured its two wayward colleagues, but at the outset of the tenor of today's 90-minute debate it was apparent there were no cracks in the coalition.

Unfortunately, opponents devoid of logic but full of less-than-genuine arguments, demagogued the issue. At one point Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Fairfax) mocked Senator Mark Obenshain's (R-26, Harrisonburg) recitation of federal court decisions upholding abortion center regulations, even though he was replying to her colleagues' calls for proof of legal precedent. It prompted this exchange. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) told his colleagues to "get a life!" if they thought the bill was about women's safety, ignoring his own colleagues' faux concerns for the constitution.

Senator John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke) repeatedly claimed the bill was unconstitutional with wild assertions and vague stretches of case law, all of which were refuted by Senator Obenshain, who cited federal appeals and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. One was Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which Senator Edwards said ruled such regulations illegal. Senator Obenshain replied that "standing up and saying so doesn’t make it so," and read from the court’s opinion which plainly disproved Senator Edwards' assertions.

Several liberal senators predicted horrors such as back alley abortions even though states such as South Carolina regulate abortion centers with no such reports and Virginia regulated abortion centers until 1983. They also claimed first-trimester abortions were among the "safest procedures" despite absolutely no corroborating evidence because there are no reporting requirements mandated in Virginia. Senator Dave Marsden (D-37, Fairfax) even compared the bill to the poll tax and efforts to keep minorities from voting in the Jim Crow era.

Another desperate aspect of the debate was the demand by several liberal Democrats that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issue an opinion, perhaps the first time they've wanted his advice. Of course, it was a tactic to delay and kill the bill. Senator Edwards sarcastically said the attorney general would love to defend the bill if it became law because of the other legal actions he’s pursued. But the fact was, and they knew it, he issued an opinion in August in support of the constitutionality of such regulations. He even accommodated senators with a letter composed during a Senate recess — which added to the longevity of the debate.

Opponents' arguments, so twisted, inevitably contradicted each other, with Senator Howell's unwitting admission that abortion is, in fact, used for contraception when she said the bill would take away one method of "determining the size of families."

This was a monumental vote and a historic day. The forces of life, after years of pursuit, finally won an incremental and commonsense victory. Thank you to all who contacted their senators on this important issue! We now look forward to working within the regulatory process to ensure the regulations by the Board of Health ensure abortion centers are safe for women who make the unfortunate choice of abortion.

The Cost Of Open Government: It Ain't Anywhere What DPB Says It Is

One of our most important legislative priorities this year is budget transparency. Where do state agencies spend our money? You think you know because you see a line item that says the Department of Education was appropriated X Billion Dollars? Wrong! All we know are some top line figures. Because the Commonwealth's budget is not in an easily searchable online database, how the agencies and departments well within the bureaucratic structure dole out wads of appropriations for grants and contracts is not easily known.

For example, if the Department of Health is appropriated $1 million to provide grants for research on physical exercise and fitness of older adults, that may well be detectable. But after that, it's anyone's guess as to who gets the grants. Or, if a city got some money for a park, who is doing the landscaping and is it the best bid? Simple examples, but you get the point.

So, who doesn't want online spending transpareny? The entrenched interests who don't want you to know where your money is getting spent. Their argument? It will cost too much money to put online, especially when we're in a budget deficit. Okay, then, who says? The Department of Planning and Budget in one of its infamous Fiscal Impact Statements.

Last year, it said it would cost more than $1 million. This year, between $1.5-$3 million. This might seem plausible except for the fact that no state has created such a search engine for more than $300,000 and the federal government put its $2 trillion of annual spending online for $1 million. Virginia spends a "paltry" $39 billion each year. Most states have done it for free, because OMB Watch, a group that created the software for the feds, has made it available for free to states!

So today, working with the National Taxpayers Union (special thanks to Josh Culling), we secured a statement that will will distribute to the General Assembly. It comes from the Treasurer of Nebraska. He created NebraskaSpending.com by Executive Order in 2007. He proved that putting a searchable budget database online could be done inexpensively without compromising its purpose. For $38,000, NebraskaSpending.com includes information on state government dollars to be spent, state dollars received, investment operation pool, grants, contracts, and a breakdown of property taxes and state aid.

We will have much more to say about this in the coming days. For now, here is the official statement from Nebraska Treasurer Shane Osborn to the Virginia General Assembly:

"We heard the same arguments about the cost of a searchable database. We received an estimate of $1.1 million at one point. In the end, we were able to shine the light on Nebraska's budget at a cost to the taxpayer of $38,000.

"Taxpayers demand absolute transparency from their government. As elected officials, it is our job to deliver it in a cost effective manner. I've seen expensive estimates like these, but in the end government can roll up their sleeves and deliver it for far less. That's exactly what we did in Nebraska."

Regarding the $3 million fiscal impact statement attached to Virginia SB 936 and HB 2285, Osborn said,

"I can't envision a situation in which a budget site would even approach that price range. If we can do it for five figures in Nebraska, there's no reason for anything close to seven figures in Virginia."

Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Budget Transparency

Yesterday, we posted information about our efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and abortion in Virginia, through grants it receives through the state budget. One of the challenges we face is actually finding the expenditures. You see, there isn't a line item in the budget that says "Planned Parenthood." The money is distributed by local health clinics from money appropriated to the Department of Health. At least the money we know about. An example of the difficulty in finding the truth came just last year when we sent Freedom of Information Act letters to every school board in Virginia concerning contracts with Planned Parenthood. The City of Richmond schools responded that they had no contract with Planned Parenthood but, just days later, we learned from Planned Parenthood that they were holding workshops in Richmond City Schools. Who is paying for this has yet to be determined, but we're working on it.

Several years ago The Family Foundation introduced legislation that was an attempt at making state budget expenditures more available to citizens. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Glen Allen), resulted in Commonwealth Datapoint (click here), a Web site where one can look through every check written by the state.

But plan on spending a lot of time, because while everything is there, it is about as user-friendly as Windows Vista. 

Last year, Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Centerville) and Chap Petersen (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) introduced legislation that would make the budget Web site more user-friendly, including a Google-like search engine. That legislation was killed in committe in both the House and Senate. Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania), a member of the Finance Committee, was particularly offended by the idea that taxpayers should have the right to hold him accountable for budget decisions. Similar legislation will be introduced again this year by those same legislators.

As the Commonwealth now deals with a spending surplus of at least $4 billion, finding where we can save money is extraordinarily important.  Most legislators will tell you that there isn't much waste in state government or any more "trimming of the edges" that can be done. While it would be great to take their word for it, the fact that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Planned Parenthood gives us doubt.

The way to righting this large ship of state begins here: It cannot be done without knowing exactly where and how government spends our hard-earned money; it cannot be done if we continue to sit in darkness while extreme organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, are provided with taxpayer bailouts.

In short, online budget transparency is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended. This year's legislative battle will be one of the bureaucrats and politicians who put power (via the purse) over the people's right to know.

Who will win? Rather, who has the will to win?