This post was authored by Emily Creveling, health educator and funding manager at the Falls Church Health Center. In addition to her work at FCHC, she is a member of the DC Doulas for Choice Collective Leadership Circle.
Friday, June 15th, 2012 marked a historical day for women’s health in Virginia. The Virginia Board of Health was poised to approve permanent regulations on abortion clinics that had the power to close all twenty clinics applying for licensure in the state. Hundreds of pro-choice demonstrators stood in front of the Health Department building in silent protest as we waited to watch the fate of women’s health Virginia. High on our list of demands: amend 12 VAC-412. This section of the proposed TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) laws was the most controversial and required the structure of abortion clinics be regulated like hospitals. Among other requirements, it included standards for hallway width, the dimensions for a janitors closet, and regulations on room temperature in operating rooms. Falls Church Healthcare Center (FCHC) would have to spend roughly a million dollars to meet these regulations. Abortion in the sate of Virginia, as in the rest of the country, remains one of the safest medical procedures a woman can undergo. FCHC has had nearly 11,000 abortion-care patients in its ten years of existence and, of those, only four patients have suffered serious complications. These proposed regulations are not founded in medical fact or necessity, but instead have only one purpose: to close abortion clinics.
We filled the Board of Health meeting to the point where the fire marshal had to ask for some to leave. Most of us were waiting with somewhat heavy and nervous hearts as the future of our clinics hung in the balance. Before the meeting commenced, we watched the Board congratulate each other on the low rates of teen pregnancy in the state and improved access to healthcare for people of color. Ironically, it is often our abortion clinics that provide resources to teens about sex, birth control, and their bodies at little to no cost.
During personal testimony we heard from doctors, lawyers, grandmothers, social workers, clinic staff, fathers, and many others who believe women have an innate right to abortion-care for their own betterment and that of their families and communities. One courageous woman testified about her own abortion and her thankfulness for being able to walk home from her appointment where she received compassionate medical care. One mother breastfed her baby who wore a sign on her back reading, “Say no to TRAP.” There was an air of solidarity among audience members as we heard testimony after testimony imploring the Board to seek justice before politics and make the right decision. We would not be silenced when asked to cease our applause after testimonies. For once, it felt like our voices were being heard. The Virginia Board of Health voted 7-4 to amend regulation 12 VAC 5-412. This amendment, championed by Board of Health members, Dr. Anna Jeng and Jim Edmondson, will “grandfather” in existing abortion clinics so they do not have to meet costly building requirements. We all were counting each “yes” and “no” on our hands and jumped, screaming and clapping, when we realized we had won.
While the Board of Health removed the most restrictive of the regulations, abortion clinics will still have to meet many unnecessary requirements such as having to be “on call” for inspection 24 hours a day and allowing the inspectors full access to patient and staff medical records. We, as abortion providers, are already forced to run the gamut in Virginia. We cannot schedule same-day appointments for abortions, we have to report the race, marital status, and education level of abortion-care patients within two weeks of their procedure, and (starting July 1st) will be required to perform a patient’s ultrasound at least 24 hours before her abortion. These restrictions, among many others, are cumbersome, costly and stressful for our staff and, most importantly, the patients we love. They single out abortion-care patients and perpetuate the stigma surrounding a medical procedure.
Dr. Jeng and Mr. Edmondson did far more than amend an unethical law, they stood up for women and their families. They fought with passion and vigor not only arguing the unconstitutional nature of the proposed permanent regulations, but took it a step further to say that the legislation is a deliberate attempt to restrict women’s access to healthcare. Further they argued the importance of women’s healthcare to the vitality of our families and communities. Their speeches were eloquent and brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. For the first time since I started working at an abortion clinic in Virginia, I felt like we are not alone. While our fight is not over and we still have a long way to go to solidify this change in the regulations, I consider this a victory for Virginian women and communities. Read more from the Washington Post.
If you are interested in ways you can help make sure this amendment stands, or want to thank Dr. Jeng or Mr. Edmondson for their courage to stand up for Virginian women, please email the Collective at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can fight to make sure pro-choice centers stay open in Virginia!