Imagine for moment, a terrified woman feeling desperate and alone. With that picture in mind, imagine the clinic she turns to for aid. Is the building up to current structural standards, or is it behind the times and in need of repair? Is the procedure room sterile, or is there blood splattered on examination tables and medical trays? Does the doctor wash his/her hands? Are the medications on hand current or expired? Abortion is tragic, deplorable, and sad. But, as we engage in pro-life advocacy do we ever reflect on the experience of the mother – the other life that makes a tragic choice but remains a beautiful life worth protecting? Do we truly reflect on the health and safety of the clinics performing these life-ending procedures?
Two weeks ago the Virginia Catholic Conference had ample opportunity for such reflection. We stood up in front of the Board of Health with the Family Foundation and many others and demanded that abortion clinics in Virginia protect the health and safety of the mother. Despite colorful testimony and theatrics from opponents of strong clinic regulations, the Board made the only choice to protect women and adopted the final regulations. Several years of advocacy and years of contentious debate all came to a favorable conclusion.
Pro-life organizations, including the Conference, have reviewed the inspection reports, and what we found was grotesque. When the emergency regulations were adopted the clinics had to be provisionally licensed, which means inspected. There were countless violations – hundreds! Women in some of these clinics were sitting on examination tables that had dried blood. Women were receiving procedures from doctors with unwashed hands. In one clinic that operated on the second floor of an older building without an elevator, if a woman required emergency assistance, EMS personnel would have to carry her down the stairs because a gurney could not fit in the hallways or go down the stairs.
Follow-up inspections before the Board’s vote revealed the abortion industry’s refusal to clean up its act; in fact, an examination of records at the Roanoke Women’s Medical Center found that three of four patients who obtained an abortion at the clinic were minors, with no documentation of parental consent present in the clinical records. Other findings included procedures being performed by staff members who are not licensed physicians.
The industry could not refute the insurmountable evidence of countless health and safety violations. Instead, abortion advocates claim that the costs of compliance are too high and will result in clinics shutting down. They employed hysterical tactics to claim that safety regulations will lead to clinic closures and bring us back to the days of back-alley abortions. Such claims are hogwash. Clinics that ensure patient safety will continue to provide abortions. If the cost of becoming a safe clinic is too high, indeed, they can (and should) discontinue performing abortions. The stakes are too high—women’s health and safety should always trump clinics’ profits.
The frightened women faced with this tragic decision deserve better. We are grateful the Board of Health reflected on this reality and voted to protect them. As we testified at the Board hearing, abortion is not health care, but as long as the abortion industry exists it must be prevented from cutting corners and skirting self-evident safety standards.