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With three Virginia women's clinics closed, the Board of Health votes to stem the tide, roll back TRAP laws

Posted by: Amy – Sep 22, 2015

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“Trust Doctors,” SCRAP TRAP,” “I regret my abortion,” “Thou Shall Not Kill.” Those were the different signs held up outside the Virginia Board of Health (BOH) office in Henrico County's Deer Run Park area Thursday morning.

A long line of pro-life and pro-choice advocates anxiously awaited to get inside and express their concerns over a scheduled DOH vote on regulations placed on abortion clinics.

But those holding up those “I regret my abortion” and “Thou Shall Not Kill” signs did not receive the outcome they had hoped as the 15-member board voted to scale back the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws passed in 2011 under former Gov. McDonnell. The now disgraced McDonnell added a myriad of requirements for women's clinics, forcing them to retroactively conform with standards for hospital construction, parking spaces, hallway width and other measures.

Three abortion clinics have closed around the state as a result of the regulations. A clinic in Fairfax, the busiest in Virginia, closed in 2013, a clinic in Norfolk closed and one in Hampton Roads quit offering abortions because of the regulations. A Manassas clinic will close at the end of this month due to the owner's retirement.

The board, led by Chairman Bruce Edwards, voted 9-6 to roll back regulations, a process that lingered long into Thursday evening.

In 2014, to stem the tide of TRAP effecting women's clinics, Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the BOH to review the policies and in May of this year current Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion to undo “medically unnecessary changes” made by former AG Ken Cuccinelli.

Planned Parenthood and other women's clinic advocates argued that the regulations were medically unnecessary, costly, unconstitutional and didn’t add to the safety for women.

These advocates made up the majority of the speakers at the meeting.

Pro-life groups and other abortion opponents insisted these regulations weren’t being enforced by Gov. McAuliffe because the "abortion industry" contributed $1.8 million to his campaign. In response to recent controversial (and recently debunked) videos that have surfaced claiming Planned Parenthood is selling fetal body parts for profit, the pro-life community is fighting to see the organization defunded.

Hundreds of people, from college students, to young women, to older women and even men started showing up at 4 am last Thursday to wait in line to get into the board room.

Leslie Blackwell, co-coordinator for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign of Virginia, was among those in line advocating for the closure of women's clinics around the state.

“Thousands upon thousands of us who have broken the silence of the shame, and guilt, and grief we feel from our abortions,” said Blackwell.

The Silent No More Awareness Campaign is a program dedicated to making “the public aware of the devastation abortion brings to women and men.”

Blackwell lives in Richmond and said she had two abortions in her early 20’s and has regretted it since.

“When we tell our stories, it’s amazing because 1 out of every 3 have experienced abortion…that’s the shameful secret you never talk about,” Blackwell said. "And so for us to break that silence I really believe we’re the courageous ones because as we speak, you can’t believe how many people come out of the woodwork. We see the harm that abortion has done to men and women.”

She also commented on Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine’s status as a transgender woman.

“This is the person that’s making the health decisions for 6 million of us Virginians,” she said. “This is a known mental health gender dysphoria issue and this is the person McAuliffe snuck in there.”

Levine was appointed to the head of the BOH by Governor McAullife in January 2014 after working for 12 years in other Boards of Health around the state.

Standing near Blackwell was Arlington, VA, resident Federico Cura, a father of two, who came down to advocate for Planned Parenthood.

“It strengthens families, Planned Parenthood strengthens families in Virginia,” he said. It’s about freedom - life and freedom. “The other side is all about deception…. the claims they’ve made about health centers, it’s all made up. That’s why they keep calling what’s inside a ‘baby’ – it’s either a fetus or fertilized egg. They are deceptive in nature. They lack integrity.”

The BOH meeting was divided into two rooms because the crowd was so large. In the main room, about 30 people of the 54 people that signed up to speak before the board got a chance to voice their concerns.

Among those who spoke was Serina Floyd, a gynecologist out of Northern Virginia, who pleaded with the board to amend the regulations put on abortion clinics.

“These restrictions are the latest example of a long-termed campaign to end access to safe abortions,” she said. “Rather than promote and protect patients’ health and safety, these restrictions serve to do the exact opposite imposing unnecessary burdens on clinics that could result in their closures and the loss of access to much needed care for thousands of women, care that includes STI and cancer screenings, birth control, and mammograms.”

Floyd argued that no medical evidence currently exists that deems the TRAP regulations “medically necessary.”

“As a medical professional, who only and always has my patients’ best interest in mind I urge you to revise these health restriction to reflect medicine and science.”

Many women took to the podium to share their personal abortion stories before the board.

“It saved my life,” said Rebecca Gotwalt, who told her story of making the decision to have an abortion at 17-years-old.

She urged the board to “amend the restrictions on women’s health centers to keep Virginia abortion providers open.”

Probably the most eventful speaker of the day was Frances Bouton, a pro-life activist.

“How can the word choice possibly mask the fact that little human beings are being ripped apart in their mothers’ wombs?” Bouton said as she took the podium. “Even as these babies fight to get away from the instruments of their death and have no way to escape. What kind of a heartless, sadistic, cold blooded human society that we can’t even recognize this extreme inhuman brutally?”

She then proceeded to go on shaming those that have had an abortion, with the use of props.

“Because this is what it’s like for a little baby being aborted, a little baby whose heart is beating…rip, rip, rip, rip, rip,” Bouton said as she tore body parts off a plastic baby one at a time. “There’s absolutely nothing sacred about this. It’s just called murder.”

Currently, according to the VDH, all 18 abortion facilities renewed their licenses for the year.

Like last Thursday’s voting process, the vote to roll back the regulations will not come swift either. The amendments go for review at AG Herring’s office, then there will be a 60-day public comment period before the final vote in a few months.

Words and photos by Amy David.

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