The Virginia Board of Health voted 11 to 2 on Friday to pass a restrictive set of abortion clinic regulations that opponents say could shut down all 20 first-trimester abortion providers in the state. The new rules will force existing clinics to meet the same architectural requirements as newly constructed hospitals, including 5-foot wide public hallways, new ventilation systems, covered front entrances and drinking fountains in waiting rooms.
The board passed the same regulations -- known as TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) -- in June, with an amendment to grandfather in existing clinics so that they could remain open. But the board tossed out that amendment in September after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and outspoken anti-abortion advocate, sent the board a strongly-worded letter threatening to deny them state-funded legal counsel. The board again rejected that amendment in passing the regulations on Friday, giving existing clinics just over a year to undergo the necessary renovations.
Supporters of the regulations, including Cuccinelli, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), and local anti-abortion groups, said they are meant to protect women's health and safety. But reproductive-rights advocates argue that first-trimester abortion clinics do not need to be regulated like surgical centers because they do not perform surgeries.
"This is a political attack on abortion designed to outlaw women’s health centers in the state," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Medically unnecessary regulations like these could effectively rob women throughout the state of the services they need to make personal decisions about pregnancy free from political interference."
Once McDonnell approves the regulations -- which were pending until the Board of Health vote -- they will have the force of law. There will be a 30-day public comment period on the regulations, after which McDonnell is expected to sign them.
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Defunding Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood has become such a reliable punching bag for social conservatives that it would have been more surprising if former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) <em>didn't</em> include defunding the women's health services provider as a staple of his recent three-point plan to revitalize the GOP. “[W]e are going to push Republican congressional leaders to defund the monstrosity that is Planned Parenthood,” Santorum said in an April fundraising plea, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/07/rick-santorums-plan-to-revitalize-the-gop-defund-planned-parenthood/" target="_blank">according to Raw Story</a>. “Too many in the GOP want to ignore the millions of innocent lives that have been extinguished by this vile organization. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a winning issue. The polls prove it.” If threatening Planned Parenthood -- and the pap smears, STI screenings, breast exams and contraceptives that comprise 97 percent of its services -- seems somewhat passé, that's because it kind of is. The biggest state push to strip the organization of funds came from Republicans in 2011 and 2012, and while some laws were passed, most have been found unconstitutional by court rulings. The GOP's demonization of Planned Parenthood <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/29/defunding-planned-parenthood-polls_n_913685.html" target="_blank">has been</a> <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/03/06/439059/texas-poll-planned-parenthood-defunding/" target="_blank">far more unpopular</a> than Santorum suggests, but that didn't stop congressional Republicans from eagerly continuing their crusade to eliminate its federal funding earlier this year with a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/08/planned-parenthood-funding-_n_2434592.html?1357683076" target="_blank">pair of new bills</a> that haven't moved forward. <BR> <BR>
Restricting Abortion Access
The fight against women's reproductive rights continued this year, as it seemingly does every year, with a new slate of highly restrictive anti-abortion bills. A number of states have so far been successful at pioneering harsh new limits on abortion rights that would leave women who need such services in those states -- as well as their partners -- with few or no options. North Dakota led the charge, ushering through the toughest restrictions in the nation with a bill prohibiting abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. State Republicans <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/jack-dalrymple-north-dakota_n_2956934.html" target="_blank">have admitted</a> that it will likely set the stage for a bitter court challenge. Arkansas meanwhile <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/07/us/arkansas-adopts-restrictive-abortion-law.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&" target="_blank">passed a ban</a> on abortions after 12 weeks, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/06/kansas-abortion_n_3029343.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">Kansas is set to enact a law that has raised concern</a> among abortion rights activists who say the language could lead to an outright abortion ban.<BR> <BR>
Implementing New Restrictions For Abortion Clinics, Doctors
When banning abortions themselves isn't enough, states have also made a point of targeting the doctors and clinics that provide them. Opponents claim the push for harsher restrictions could eliminate abortion access entirely in some states, forcing women in need to face difficult and dangerous choices. Measures in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/26/mississippi-abortion-clinic_n_2558320.html" target="_blank">Mississippi</a> and <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/02/north-dakotas-only-abortion-clinic-isnt-going-anywhere/" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> have put the single abortion clinics in each of the states at risk of closing. The new regulations claim to ensure safer standards, requiring anyone performing abortions to be an OB-GYN with hospital admitting privileges. But critics argue that the abundance of caution is unnecessary, as procedures <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/us/alabama-legislature-approves-abortion-clinic-limits.html?_r=0" target="_blank">very rarely lead to medical emergencies</a>. With the stigmatization of abortion in many of these states often leaving only a few medical professionals who provide abortion services in the first place, opponents also argue that the new rules create an onerous if not impossible task that is intended to force clinics to close. New <a href="http://hamptonroads.com/2013/04/decisive-hearing-abortion-clinic-rules-set-today" target="_blank">rules in Virginia</a> are causing similar consternation in the state, and beginning in July, the few clinics serving Alabama will face the same concerns thanks to a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/alabama-abortion-bill_n_3046005.html" target="_blank">newly passed law</a>.<BR> <BR>
Punishing Rape Victims Who Seek Abortions
New Mexico state Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R) nearly one-upped <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/19/todd-akin-abortion-legitimate-rape_n_1807381.html" target="_blank">Todd Akin</a> earlier this year, when she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/new-mexico-abortion-bill_n_2541894.html" target="_blank">proposed legislation</a> seeking to make any rape victim who terminated a pregnancy guilty of "tampering with evidence," a third-degree felony. She later <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/01/25/cathrynn_brown_wants_to_abort_mission/" target="_blank">attempted to perform damage control</a>, adjusting the language of the bill. It didn't pass.
Cutting Sex Education Funding
Some people apparently still believe the best sex education is the kind that includes neither sex nor education. In North Dakota, Arkansas and Texas, Republicans extended their vendetta against Planned Parenthood this year, bringing forth proposals to block the organization's effort to offer comprehensive sex education programs to at-risk teenagers. Lawmakers lofted a variety of arguments against the plan, which would have provided counseling and information about contraception, sexually transmitted infections and -- wait for it -- even abstinence. In Texas, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/texas-sex-ed-planned-parenthood_n_2819318.html" target="_blank">one supporter claimed</a> that it was impossible to entrust Planned Parenthood with sex education duties, because doing so would constitute a "conflict of interest" considering the group's role as an abortion provider. It was taken as a suggestion that she believed Planned Parenthood might miseducate teens in order to get them pregnant so that the the group could then make money off providing them with abortions. The bill hasn't passed yet. Lawmakers in North Dakota offered similar arguments in favor of their version of a similar measure, while Republicans in Arkansas <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/arkansas-planned-parenthood-sex-ed_n_3047024.html" target="_blank">pushed through a bill</a> that both defunds Planned Parenthood and effectively kills a comprehensive sex education program in the state's public high schools. The Arkansas bill also ends a state-funded HIV and STI prevention program, also administered by Planned Parenthood. Critics have called this a terrible idea, partially because <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/04/10/1844321/arkansas-planned-parenthood-sex-ed/" target="_blank">Arkansas already has some of the highest</a> teen pregnancy and HIV rates in the nation, and partially because, duh.<BR> <BR>
Pushing Abstinence-Only Education
While Republicans in a number of states fought comprehensive sex education, GOP lawmakers in Congress poured it on hot and heavy with an aggressive and ill-fated bill seeking to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/abstinence-education-reallocation-act_n_2807356.html" target="_blank">open up more than $550 million in federal grants</a> to programs that teach the "skills and benefits of sexual abstinence as the optimal sexual health behavior for youth." It also encouraged programs that provided an "understanding of how drugs, alcohol, and the irresponsible use of social media can influence sexual decisionmaking and can contribute to risky and often aggressive sexual behavior." Studies have repeatedly shown that this form of education <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/13/AR2007041301003.html" target="_blank">doesn't work</a> and, in fact, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/05/14/482665/birth-control-misinformed/" target="_blank">increases risky sexual behavior</a> among young adults. As <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/themoogly/abstinence-education-reallocation-act_n_2807356_234478473.html" target="_blank">one witty HuffPost commenter quipped</a>, "If you gave every teen in America $550 million, they would still have sex."<BR> <BR>
Curbing Affordable Contraception
The GOP offensive to scale back access to affordable birth control also perked up again in 2013, with Republicans taking most intent aim at an Obamacare contraception mandate that they have repeatedly called an attack on religious freedom. The push back against the measure -- which requires most insurance providers and employers to offer free contraception coverage -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/04/virginia-abortion-contraception_n_2410445.html?1357324409" target="_blank">first</a> <a href="http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2013/03/tim_jones_chris_koster_birth_control.php" target="_blank">cropped up</a> on the state level, but in March, a group of House Republicans threw it into the crossfire of budget negotiations when they <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/abortion/286217-gop-lawmakers-say-spending-bill-should-target-contraception-mandate" target="_blank">tacked a measure</a> to repeal the mandate on to a continuing resolution. It was a non-starter.
Reinstating Anti-Sodomy Laws
In the midst of a campaign for governor, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/ken-cuccinelli-sodomy_n_3007731.html" target="_blank">made an effort</a> to reinstate a state anti-sodomy law that had recently been struck down by the courts. Cuccinelli hoped to use the law -- which <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/04/cuccinelli-wants-rehearing-virginias-anti-sodomy-law" target="_blank">technically banned</a> consensual anal and oral sex, for <em>both gay and straight people</em>, despite the Supreme Court's 2003 <em>Lawrence v. Texas</em> ruling that found such bans unconstitutional -- in order to prosecute an earlier case. Cucinelli's appeal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/ken-cuccinelli-sodomy_n_3051758.html" target="_blank">ultimately failed</a>, but only after his campaign <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/04/ken-cuccinelli-crimes-against-nature-prison-capacity" target="_blank">refused to confirm or deny</a> if he himself had committed any of the "crimes against nature" that the law supposedly protected against.
Voting To Keep Gay Sex Illegal
A law determining that sex between gay people is illegal has been on the books in Montana for almost 40 years, despite the fact that it can no longer be enforced due to a state Supreme Court ruling and <em>Lawrence v. Texas</em>. When state lawmakers undertook an effort to repeal the obsolete measure in April, however, not all were willing to take the symbolic step in favor of gay rights. In fact, a total of 38 Republicans voted against the measure, a stand that drew a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/amanda-curtis-montana_n_3046636.html" target="_blank">pointed response</a> from their Democratic colleague, state Rep. Amanda Curtis (D). Curtis even said she was quite tempted to punch one of her Republican colleagues, but it looks like that didn't happen. Watch her explain why she didn't in the video to the left, starting at around the 2:10 mark. And <a href="https://www.facebook.com/amanda.curtis.56614?fref=ts" target="_blank">follow her on Facebook here</a>. Despite their resistance, state lawmakers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130411/us-montana-gay-sex/?utm_hp_ref=politics&ir=politics" target="_blank">ultimately passed the measure</a>, meaning a bunch of "felons" in the state are about to lose some serious street cred.<BR><BR>
Keeping Gay Teens Scared Of Jail Time
When the Texas state Senate <a href="http://www.statesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/rare-gay-rights-bill-passes-senate-committee/nXHRt/" target="_blank">made a rare, yet small move</a> to help enhance legal protections for sexually active gay teens in April, one Republican, state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), voted against the measure. In voting no, Schwertner rejected an effort to extend the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/texas-romeo-and-juliet-law_n_3054471.html" target="_blank">state's "Romeo and Juliet" law</a> -- which protects teens engaged in consensual sex from being prosecuted for sex crimes -- to gay teens as well. Currently, gay teens who have sex with one another risk felony charges of sexual indecency with a child. A similar law is on the books in Nevada, where the ACLU <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/04/crime-against-nature-statute-nevada-aclu_n_3015565.html" target="_blank">has announced</a> it is joining a fight against the statute.<BR><BR>
Canceling 'Sex Week'
In March, a <a href="http://sexweekut.org/schedule/" target="_blank">weeklong, student-produced series of events</a> dedicated to sexual safety and awareness at the University of Tennessee emerged as a nemesis of state Republicans. After some griping, they successfully stripped state tax dollars from the "Sex Week" budget, thereby eliminating sex from the entire campus for a week. Wait, no. In fact, despite all the conservative bluster, "Sex Week" <a href="http://www.wate.com/story/21906010/uts-sex-week-gets-underway" target="_blank">kicked off as planned</a> in April, with help from some independent donors who presumably understood that because every week at college is sex week, <a href="http://sexweekut.org/schedule/" target="_blank">it's ok to discuss</a> everything "From a Rocky Bottom to a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Top" target="_blank">Rocky Top</a>." Well played, Sex Week UT.<BR><BR>