The case against stronger abortion regulations in Virginia

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

THE QUESTION borders on the inane: Can Virginia regulate "facilities in which first-trimester abortion services are provided" and "medical personnel who perform first-trimester abortions"? The answer is obvious: Of course it can. Every state regulates medical personnel and facilities, from those that dispense acne medication to those that perform open-heart surgery. How a state regulates, however, is a different question -- and one that should be answered by solid medical evidence and sound public policy.

The above query about abortion clinics was submitted to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) by Virginia Sen. Ralph K. Smith (R-Roanoke) and Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William). All three oppose abortion. As a state senator, Mr. Cuccinelli unsuccessfully introduced legislation to more tightly police -- and most likely reduce -- abortion services in the commonwealth. His legal opinion, issued Aug. 20, opens the door for a more rigorous regulatory framework that could force clinics, among other things, to adopt expensive structural changes that abortion advocates say are unnecessary and could put many out of business.

The Post's Anita Kumar reports that Mr. Marshall has urged Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to follow Mr. Cuccinelli's legal road map. "This is a victory for women and children across Virginia," Mr. Marshall said. "We should do everything possible to ensure that every woman's life and health and their future pregnancies are protected by the Commonwealth of Virginia."

But do the women of the commonwealth need additional protection? Has the state experienced a spike in abortion-related complications, including those that, as Mr. Marshall suggests, imperil future pregnancies? No, and no.

State medical and health boards already provide oversight of abortion facilities and the medical personnel who perform roughly 25,000 abortions each year. The Virginia Department of Health does not keep statistics on the number of medical complications associated with abortions. But the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on reproductive health and supports legal abortion, reports that less than one-half of 1 percent of abortions performed in the country result in complications that require follow-up medical treatment. The earlier the abortion is performed, the fewer the complications. The Virginia clinics in question perform only first-trimester abortions -- the safest of all procedures. The institute provides compelling medical information that a woman's decision to have an abortion has little to no impact on her ability to give birth later.

The Supreme Court determined nearly four decades ago that the Constitution protects a woman's right to choose. Virginia lawmakers have repeatedly rejected efforts to enact legislation that could seriously limit that right in the state. Politicians should not now try to achieve this dubious goal through regulatory sleight of hand.

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