Blacksburg’s Planned Parenthood is likely to stop providing medical abortions because of a new set of regulations approved by the Virginia Board of Health last Thursday.
The regulations require Virginia clinics providing five or more abortions per month to upgrade their facilities to meet hospital standards. Otherwise, clinics offering surgical or medical abortions, those using an oral pill to induce miscarriage, can not offer the procedure.
The new rules were written after the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill requiring additional restrictions to be put in place. Health centers that fall under the purview of the regulations will be required to provide a plan to meet the requirements within two years, beginning Jan. 1, 2012, if approved by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Upgrades required include wider hallways and larger operating rooms, which are norms for new construction. The regulations will be enforced through government inspections, which could be performed unannounced.
Tanya Semones, the Planned Parenthood in Southwest Virginia field coordinator, said the restrictions are “onerous” and “the most restrictive in the nation.”
“Planned Parenthood is already subject to the same regulations as existing outpatient hospitals,” she said. “And these targeted regulations don’t do anything to protect women. First trimester abortions remain to be one of the safest in-office procedures.”
Catherine Slusher, an obstetrician and gynecologist, who is a Board of Health member recently appointed by Gov. McDonnell, said the purpose of the regulations were to ensure abortion safety, not to decrease women’s access to the procedure.
“They will still be available, and it’s not outlawing it or making it illegal,” Slusher said. “It’s just making it safe.”
Because Planned Parenthood’s clinics in Roanoke and Charlottesville provide surgical procedures, they were built in anticipation of possible regulations such as these, Semones said.
“But we did not expect anything to this extent,” she said. “We will have to do hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work on these two facilities just to make it so we can be up to code.”
Planned Parenthood plans to focus its efforts and funds on meeting regulations in other locations, aside from Blacksburg. At that point, the nearest location where one can receive an abortion will be in Roanoke.
Planned Parenthood centers in Charlottesville and Roanoke provided 1,470 surgical abortions in 2010. Another 417 surgical abortions were provided in other clinics in Roanoke, according to the Virginia Department of Health website.
“If some of the clinics are forced to shut down because of the standards — even if there’s not a planned parenthood in your backyard — there are still other options,” said Matt Hurt, the College Republicans president. Hurt is a regular opinions columnist for the Collegiate Times.
The regulations could also affect students.
“The cost will be the biggest issue (for students),” Semones said. “Meeting these regulations will require that the cost be passed on to our patients.”
Mary Eileen Barber, an active member of the Right to Life at VT, said she doesn’t think an increased cost for abortions is necessarily negative.
“Hopefully, this increased cost will help deter students from having abortions,” Barber said.
Although Barber said she doesn’t think the Board of Health’s motive was to decrease abortion access, she said it is a “little victory” for her organization’s cause.