Virgina Abortion Clinics Shut Down, But Maryland Preserves Abortion Rights

Editor's Note: With 40 days left until the presidential election, PolicyMic's Audrey Farber will be posting a daily update on the state of abortion rights in the U.S., covering legislative challenges to Roe v. Wade in all 50 states. So far, we've gotten updates on Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, VermontMassachusetts, Rhode IslandMaine and New Hampshire. Check back in every day to keep track!

Two weeks ago, Virginia's Board of Health effectively shut down existing abortion clinics in the state, reversing its June decision regarding whether or not hospital-style regulations should be applied to the clinics. A protestor outside the meeting commented, "You talk about the Arab Spring. Well, we’ve got the same thing going on here.”

While politicians deny that their personal beliefs have anything to with the decision, a peek into the state of abortion rights in Virginia reveals a different picture, especially when contrasted with neighboring Maryland.

Maryland

True blue Maryland, which the New York TimesFiveThirtyEight blog has going for Obama in November, is privileged to be home to idiosyncratic 6th district Congressman Roscoe Bartlett. Earlier this month, not long after Akin’s biology lesson, Bartlett took to the numbers to profess that “very few pregnancies result from rape … or incest.”

If only Bartlett had been my statistics professor, I might have gotten better than a C: “compared to the usual abortion, what is the percentage of abortions for rape? ...in terms of the percentage of pregnancies, percentage of abortions for rape as compared to overall abortions, it’s a tiny, tiny percentage.”

Since women seeking abortions due to pregnancy from rape is apparently such a small number, Bartlett is free to pursue the real culprits: “the large number of women choosing sex selection abortion.”

Bartlett has a history of backing anti-abortion legislation in the U.S. House. He was a co-sponsor of the Sanctity of Life Act in 2007, 2009, and 2011, as well as of HR 3, also known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Bartlett has enjoyed support from a largely conservative district in Western Maryland since 1992 elections. However, recent redistricting has left him with a more liberal voter base, and the pro-choice libertarian and Democrat challenging his incumbency will likely have a better shot since the district now includes Montgomery County, “one of the nation's bluest.”

Pro-equality, pro-choice second-term Governor Martin O’Malley (O’Malley 2016?) with the support of Maryland’s Democratic state legislature will likely maintain the status quo in Maryland: access to public funding and parental notification for minors.

Virginia

Maryland stands in stark contrast with its south-of-the-Potomac neighbors in Virginia, who have been battling anti-choice legislation for the last several months.

Just about a week ago, the Virginia Board of Health decided that abortion clinics be held accountable to similar building standards as hospitals, which in some cases could “force their closure due to the costs of remodeling.” Earlier in the year, it looked as though clinics would be exempted from this rule, but thanks to financial bullying by the state’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli II, the clinics were ultimately included. Daily Herald editor Randy Wright accuses Cuccinelli of using his office as “a blatantly partisan bully pulpit to attack Obamacare, illegal immigrants, homosexuals and climate-change scientists,” and now of forcing “most of the commonwealth's 20 or so abortion clinics to close.”

Watch out, women of Virginia: Cuccinelli is running for governor in 2013. His platform on the issue now known as “life” is a what’s-what of recent Virginia anti-choice legislation. Cuccinelli might be a major political impetus behind these bills, but Governor Bob McDonnell and the Republican-dominated State House aren’t arguing.

In addition to the building restrictions, there was: the bill that died in the State Senate “that would have prevented poor women whose fetuses have gross mental and physical abnormalities from using state funds for abortions”; the dead-in-the-Senate personhood bill; the transvaginal ultrasound bill which passed even the evenly-split State Senate but was signed by Republican Governor McDonnell only after being amended to require abdominal ultrasounds due to an outpouring of protests; a ban on partial-birth abortion; and the addition in 2009 of a “Choose Life” license plate.

How is this happening?

Cuccinelli is a bully: a March 2012 Quinnipiac University poll tells us that voters in Virginia disagree 52 - 41 with the ultrasound law, and 72% of Virginia voters say “government should not make laws which try to convince women seeking an abortion to change their minds.” Wow. What happened to democracy?

Virginia is now one of the most restrictive states in the nation regarding anti-choice policies. Women in Virginia must obtain parental consent if they are minors, must undergo counseling and a 24-hour waiting period, and have extremely limited access public funding. In 2008, 54% of Virginia women lived in a county without an abortion provider, and Cuccinelli is working hard to make that number skyrocket.