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Defense Makes Case That VA Abortion Clinics Were Less Safe Before State Regulations

Abortion clinic inspectors and regulators testified in federal court this week describing unsanitary, and in some cases, unsafe conditions at some abortion clinics before the Virginia Board of Health started regulating them in 2011.

Four Virginia abortion regulations are being challenged in a two-week-long trial in Richmond. Final arguments are scheduled for June 6th.

Plaintiffs who brought the  lawsuit last year include Virginia League For Planned Parenthood and Falls Church Medical Center, among others. They say the licensing scheme for clinics is onerous and the requirement that only licensed physicians perform abortions is medically unnecessary

They argue these restrictions make it difficult for some women to access an abortion in Virginia.

But attorneys for the state made a case this week that the laws have improved the health and safety of abortion clinics.

Debbie Wintermantel, a clinic inspector for the Virginia Department of Health, testified when the regulations were initially implemented, “we were writing almost every citation that there was.”

Another inspector, Deborah Marion, said what she saw at some clinics was very concerning.

“The waiting area was very dirty. There were holes in the walls. There was graffiti on the walls,” she said. “There was some confusion over who was in charge.”

Dr. Mary Catherine Slusher is an OBGYN who was appointed to the Virginia Board of Health by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell. She testified this week that she previously cared for a woman in the emergency room who had had an abortion that was infected and incomplete.

“It underscores the importance of what we were trying to do with the abortion regulations,” she said.

Plaintiffs in the case maintain abortion is one of the safest procedures that exist and that complications are rare.


Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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