By Jillian Quattlebaum
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Nancy Tanner was in her early 30s when she had an abortion. She said she immediately regretted her decision.
“The hardest part is forgiving yourself when you realize that, by your actions — even if you felt coerced — you still participated in the taking of your child,” Tanner said. “And that’s a hard thing to face.”
Today, Tanner works with women who are facing a difficult pregnancy. She is the regional coordinator in Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
The campaign seeks to get people talking and thinking about the negative consequences of abortion.
“If you’re able to change one person’s mind or heart to prevent someone from making the same mistake that I made, it’s a good thing,” Tanner said.
Tanner said the Washington-area clinic where her abortion was performed in the 1980s was disgusting. She supports a new Virginia law that will require abortion clinics to meet hospital standards.
The legislation is long overdue, Tanner said. She said clinics should be clean and licensed like other Virginian health care providers.
“It’s good to have standards that will protect women,” Tanner said.
But abortion rights advocates say that the facilities where abortions are done in Virginia already are clean and safe. They say the law is aimed not at protecting women but at shutting down the clinics.
Senate Bill 924 targets any clinic that handles at least five first-trimester abortions per month. It requires the clinics to meet hospital requirements for physical facilities, equipment, staffing, training and security. Many clinics, for example, may have to renovate and expand rooms and widen doorways and hallways.
Because of the expense imposed by the new law, 17 of Virginia’s 21 clinics probably would close, abortion rights activists say.
Joseph Richards, the political, program and communications manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, refers to such laws as TRAP – targeted regulations of abortion providers.
“They are dangerous because they are politically motivated and single out one type of medical practice from among all others for new, politically motivated restrictions,” Richards said. “Often the proposals create a solution to a problem that does not exist.”
Richards said there is no proof or statistics showing medical offices providing abortions in Virginia are unsafe.
“It is reckless and unsound lawmaking to propose restrictions and pass regulations based on ideology and scant evidence of need for such legislation,” Richards said.
Richards said first-trimester abortions are one of the safest medical procedures. He said abortion providers already are regulated by the Virginia Board of Medicine, the Board of Health Professions and other agencies and laws.
“We don’t know what the new regulations will look like, but if they in any way raise costs and limit access to safe care, they will work to decrease safety,” Richards said. “Reproductive care and safety include two major components: legality and access. Without either one, safety would be undermined.”
Tanner said she understands women will continue seeking abortions if they decide that’s what they want. The law simply will ensure better and safer standards where abortions are performed, she said.
“I do see it as a win-win,” Tanner said. “It’s not going to prevent people from getting the services they need; it will provide them with a safer place to receive those services.”
Private Insurance and Abortion Coverage
Another law that has anti-abortion activists cheering and abortion rights activists steaming is House Bill 2434, which will establish a health benefits exchange in Virginia. Such exchanges, which are mandated by the new federal health care law, will help Virginians get affordable health insurance.
Gov. Bob McDonnell amended the bill to prohibit private insurers that participate in the exchange program from covering abortions. (The exchange would pay for an abortion only if the pregnancy jeopardizes the mother’s health or resulted from rape or incest.)
This law is especially troublesome to Christie Burwell of the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project. The group provides funding and transportation for women who want an abortion but can’t afford it.
Burwell said transportation to a clinic is a big problem, “particularly for people who live outside of Northern Virginia or one of the bigger cities. Hampton Roads and Richmond tend to do OK, but some of the more rural areas don’t have a clinic near them.”
That situation will get worse if the hospital-oriented regulations cause most of Virginia’s clinics to close, Burwell said. Then transportation would be “a huge issue,” as it is in other states that have just a few abortion clinics.
Plus, there’s the cost of the abortion itself, Burwell said. If the clinics are “having to make construction changes and things like that, the price will probably go up – which is also a big barrier for everybody being able to access those services.”
Because of the costs, it’s important that women be able to buy health insurance that covers abortions, abortion rights advocates say.
Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, said the conference supported prohibiting abortion coverage in the Virginia health benefits exchange program.
“People should not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions,” Caruso said. “That’s really the principle that this amendment seeks to uphold.”
In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal Medicaid funding from paying for abortions. Caruso said Virginia is simply implementing on the state level what has been a federal policy for many years.
“The abortions that are now going to be excluded from the state’s health insurance exchange going forward are abortions that have long been ineligible for federal funding in major health programs,” Caruso said.
He said Virginia will join six other states in limiting abortion coverage in their health benefits exchange programs. The other states are Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Idaho.
Here is a video that CNS reporters Jillian Quattlebaum and Erica Terrini produced about the clinic regulations:
On the Web
Silent No More Awareness Campaign: www.silentnomoreawareness.org
Virginia Catholic Conference: www.vacatholic.org
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia: www.naralva.org
Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project: www.rrfp.net