"Access Matters." (Or, Why Clinics in Virginia Could Be Shut Down Because of Closets and Hallways.)

Posted on 9.17.2012 by Amy

Here comes the biggest repro rights setback to hit Virginia since TRANSVAGINAL ULTRASOUNDS.

The state's board of health has voted to impose hospital-style building standards on abortion clinics, reversing a decision in June that exempted existing clinics from rules governing things like width of hallways and the size.of.the.janitor's.closet.

The move came after strong-arming from the state's anti-abortion attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who refused to certify the initial changes exempting clinics and said the board had exceeded its authority. He sent a letter to board members saying they could not exempt existing clinics and warning them they could be personally liable for legal fees if they were sued after refusing to heed his advice. (This is the same state, by the way, where a member of the House of Delegates recently declared that disabled children are God's revenge on women who terminate their first pregnancies.)

Earlier this year I spoke with Rosemary Codding, Director of Patient Services at Falls Church Healthcare Center in Virginia, which, she noted, had a very nice, well-organized janitor's closet.

They'd had to spend thousands of dollars determining whether the clinic could come into compliance with the architectural requirements -- or whether they'd have to close.

The rules in Virginia are part of a rash of TRAP laws across the country that are silently gutting abortion access in this country, clinic by clinic. I discovered how profoundly these requirements were impacting providers when I called clinics to talk about TRANSVAGINAL ULTRASOUNDS and waiting periods -- which were making headlines -- and found them desperate to talk about the TRAP rules -- which were not making headlines.

There was Bill Adams, for example, the owner and doctor at an abortion clinic in Utah; I called him to talk about the state's 72-hour waiting period -- the longest in the country -- and found him eager to talk about doorknobs, electrical wiring and bathroom fans. Rules about things like the.style.of.doorknobs.in.his.bathroom were taking over his life.

TRAP laws are geared at shutting down abortion clinics, not -- as they purport to do -- making women safer. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures out there, and as far as I know, a lever doorknob has never saved anyone's life. In recent months, we've seen TRAP laws that impose onerous requirements for doctors who provide abortions threaten the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi and force a clinic in Tennessee to close. Now, the laws may find their mark in Virginia, where some of the state's 20 clinics have said they'll be run out of business by the costly requirements.

While the rules may not immediately sound as scandalously vag-invading as TRANSVAGINAL ULTRASOUNDS, these laws are ending abortion; there's no doubt about it. And with each clinic closing, more women will die or be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. It's.already.happening.

And there are some who recognize it.

In every battle like this, we look for the real heroes, and here they are: H. Anna Jeng and James Edmondson, the TWO board members out of 15 who voted against extending the rules to existing clinics. Here's what happened to them, according to the Washington Post:

"Jeng left the meeting in tears. Edmondson, who risked missing his daughter’s wedding rehearsal in the District to attend the meeting, became emotional while talking with reporters afterward.

"'Access matters,' he said, his voice cracking."

Not only did these board members risk the potential legal repercussions of standing up to the attorney general, but Edmondson apparently risked missing one of the most important event's in his daughter's life, and both let themselves get caught being EMOTIONAL over ABORTION in front of reporters. I wonder what happened in Edmondson's life to make him feel so powerfully how much "access matters." I wonder whether he, like so many men in the decades before abortion was legal, had watched someone bleed to death or be maimed by illegal or self-induced abortion.

Even while he risked missing her wedding rehearsal, I think he must have been thinking of his daughter.