“Final draft permanent regulations from the Attorney General do not represent the opinions of doctors and the medical community…women’s health care should not be politically motivated,” says Dr. James Ferguson
Richmond, VA, June 14, 2012 – On a call with reporters today, Dr. James “Jef” Ferguson, chair of the Department of OB/GYN at University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, called the McDonnell administration’s draft permanent regulations of women’s health center that provide first-trimester abortion politically motivated, saying that “arbitrary and capricious decisions like this – in my opinion – have no place in the practice of medical care and disruption that’s occurring…women’s health care should not be politically motivated.”
Ferguson was one of six top Virginia doctors asked to provide medical counsel to the Virginia Department of Health last year during the temporary draft regulation process. He has since asked for his name to be removed from the final draft permanent regulations that were heavily edited by the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a public anti-abortion advocate. The Virginia Board of Health will vote tomorrow on the draft permanent regulations. If passed, the regulations will move through a public comment period – on the way to veto or approval by Governor McDonnell, expected in early 2013.
Dr. Ferguson was joined on the media conference call by Rosemary Codding, director of a women’s health care facility in Falls Church that provides first-trimester abortion, in addition to cancer screenings and other critical care, and Tarina Keene, director of the consumer advocate group Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health and executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
“Doctors [on the advisory committee for the Dept. of Health] were told that the Attorney General’s office needed to ‘approve’ these regulations, but the Attorney General office is manipulating Virginia law in this case,” said Katherine Greenier, a public interest attorney with the ACLU of Virginia and member of the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health. “Under Virginia law, the Attorney General is charged with the responsibility to review the draft regulations, but the law does not give the Attorney General’s office veto or approval power over what to keep in the final rules.”
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Virginia Coalition show that the AG’s office substantially reworked the draft regulations to make them much more restrictive than originally recommended by doctors. The final draft regulations – after markup by the Attorney General’s office – are the ones being rejected by Dr. Ferguson of the original advisory group, as well as many practicing doctors from across Virginia.
Currently, none of the 20 Virginia women’s health care centers targeted by McDonnell and Cuccinelli meet the administration’s proposed regulations, which do not apply to any other outpatient medical service in the commonwealth, including vasectomies, dental surgery, liposuction and more. The draft permanent regulations require women’s health care centers to meet forced building construction requirements used for hospitals, despite the medical designation of abortion as an outpatient procedure.
The regulations were drafted by the Virginia Department of Health, but Attorney General Cuccinelli recommended substantial changes in a process that illustrates a new trend in creating ideologically-driven state law through the regulatory system, despite lack of public approval. When the regulations become law, they will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health, which incorporates counsel from Attorney General Cuccinelli. Despite the administration’s official public statement about “safety and wellbeing of patients” as rationale for the regulations, Attorney General Cuccinelli has stated publicly to at least one pro-life organization that the goal is to “end abortion in America” (see video interview with Pro-Life News from May 8).
- In 2011, through an unrelated bill (SB 924), the Virginia House of Delegates changed the classification of women’s health care centers that provide first-trimester abortion (at least five performed per month) from “outpatient offices” to “hospitals.” This amendment was made by Rep. Kathy Byron, the same member of the Virginia legislature who proposed a new ultrasound requirement in 2011.
- This change led to the drafting of “emergency” temporary regulations last fall, and now permanent regulations that require existing women’s health centers to come into compliance with three chapters of a manual called the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities within the next two years. The guidelines are intended to apply only to new construction, not to existing facilities, and this is how they are applied to every other health care facility in Virginia. They include:
- Building 5-foot wide public hallways throughout the women’s health care centers
- Constructing hospital-like treatment rooms up to 150 square feet in size
- Adding new covered front entrances, public telephones, public bathrooms and drinking fountains in waiting rooms, requiring new plumbing to accommodate
- Incorporating specific new ventilation systems
- Against medical counsel, the Department of Health’s draft regulations’ building requirements also do not make the distinction between medically-induced abortion and an outpatient procedure; medically-induced abortion is completed with oral medication in a doctor’s office.
- The draft guidelines also include provisions that compromise patient and health care center confidentiality, including allowing state inspectors to remove patient records from facilities.
- Inspectors are also permitted to arrive at health care centers with only an hour’s notice at any hour of the day, seven days a week, a provision that is a burden to health care managers who work on a 9-to-5 schedule. No other medical procedure is regulated individually in this way in Virginia; physicians ultimately decide the appropriate setting for every other surgical procedure performed in Virginia.
- Cost projected by the Department of Health for a 5,000 square-foot women’s health center:
- Estimated cost of moderate renovations: $650,000
- Estimated cost for major renovations: $2.6 million
- Additional cost per patient: up to $250 per procedure, a 71 percent increase (based on an average of $350 per procedure)
- In some cases, women’s health care centers will be forced to build entirely new buildings, which may be cost-prohibitive.
More information can be found at the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health website, www.coalitionforwomenshealth.org, and on Twitter @vacoalitionwh and Facebook.com/virginiacoalitiontoprotectwomenshealth.