IT’S BEEN a bad week in Virginia for anti-abortion activists, who had argued that the state’s abortion clinics pose such a threat to patients that they should be regulated like hospitals — and in most cases shuttered. The evidence is in, and they’re wrong.
In a public hearing Thursday, members of the Board of Health were presented with the results of the state’s just-completed two-year review, during which each of the commonwealth’s 18 clinics were exhaustively scrutinized, in most cases on more than one visit, by state inspectors. Officials estimate that inspectors devoted at least 2,000 man-hours to the project.
No evidence was found of violations that resulted in harm to patients at any of the state’s clinics, which perform an estimated 25,000 first-trimester abortions annually. None.
That’s 50,000 abortions in two years and not one instance of physical harm befalling a patient.
Moreover, according to Erik Bodin, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Licensure and Certification, the violations that officials did find at the clinics were much less severe than those identified in the state’s nursing homes. And the frequency of violations, not very high to begin with in 2012, was cut nearly in half in the 2013 to 2015 inspection period.
Virginia’s complex review covered 80 different inspection categories, any one of which could result in a demerit on a 12-point scale of severity. In no instance did any clinic receive a demerit in the more serious half of that range.
Many of the demerits meted out involved administrative shortcomings: failing to appoint an acting director while the director was absent; failing to keep adequate records on patients; neglecting to develop a self-assessment program; not collecting the proper consent forms from one (of three) minor patients whose files were pulled at random. In one instance, a clinic received a demerit for failing to ensure that recliners in the recovery area were disinfected between patients.
After a second round of inspections at facilities issued those most serious demerits, inspectors found either no violations or trivial ones at 15 of the state’s 18 clinics. At the other three clinics, the mid-range violations were not judged to have caused any physical harm.
Republican lawmakers in Virginia, with a heavy assist from former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, have tried to threaten the clinics’ viability by mandating that they be reclassified as hospitals for the purpose of regulation. That would force the closure of 13 of the 18 clinics, whose corridor widths, parking lots, janitorial closets and the like do not meet hospital standards. Thanks to the intercession of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), the Board of Health has granted waivers allowing those 13 clinics to continue operating while it reviews the regulations.
Lawmakers and anti-abortion activists who favor the regulations insist they are doing nothing more than trying to protect the health of women. That argument was always transparent nonsense, and the contention that women were endangered was based on anecdotes, often from clinics out of state, rather than evidence.
Now that the evidence is in, the Board of Health should do what it was prepared to do three years ago, before Mr. Cuccinelli intervened: exempt existing clinics from the unneeded reclassification.