Ghosts of general assembly past provide opportunity for redemption

On January 17th, the Virginia Senate’s Education and Health Committee will revisit the issues of mandatory ultrasound and targeted regulations of abortion providers, when bills seeking their removal are considered.  In short, the contested debate over reproductive rights that threw Virginia into the national spotlight (on both news and comedy channels) is set to be had anew.  However, this time, there is hope for change.

The General Assembly is in a position to deliver Virginia from its status as a bastion of government overreach into the personal lives of its citizenry.  It has the power to change our state from one that chooses political pandering to one that relies upon sound legal and medical reasoning.  It can decide whether we are a society that encourages responsible behavior yet exercises compassion when painful decisions are confronted.

To do so may require the General Assembly to correct the wrongs of the past.  However, failure to act would only perpetuate these wrongs, with its own constituents bearing the consequences. 

On the Committee’s agenda this Thursday include these four bills:

SB 1080, which is patroned by Senator (and physician) Northam, would clearly prohibit the Commonwealth from mandating an otherwise medically unnecessary ultrasound.  An ultrasound is a medical diagnostic procedure, plain and simple.  Never before has the Commonwealth mandated a medical procedure when it would be deemed unnecessary by a medical provider.  The only time before 2012 that the Commonwealth mandated a medical procedure was the forced sterilization of the mentally disabled in the 1920s.  In an era during which we are asking for the judicious use of our health care system, a big government mandate for medically unnecessary procedures is obtuse.  This bill ensures our Commonwealth would not engage in such inanity.

SB 1082, also patroned by Senator Northam, would in effect remove the requirement that a woman undergo a transabdominal ultrasound prior to an abortion.  As stated above, a government mandate for a medical procedure is a gross overreach into the physician/patient relationship.  In no other healthcare context is such a requirement codified.  Furthermore, medical evidence clearly shows that a transabdominal ultrasound during the early stages of pregnancy yields little substantive data, which confounds the very reason that was given for the legislation (i.e., informed consent).  This bill brings sound legal and medical reasoning back to the discussion.

SB 1115 and SB 1116 address the targeted regulations of abortion providers that were pushed through the General Assembly two years ago.  In 2011, the Senate passed SB 924, a seemingly harmless bill that required the Department of Health to issue regulations related to infection prevention and disaster preparedness for hospitals.  However, when it was considered in the House of Delegates, a surprise amendment was added that reclassified abortion providers across Virginia as a category of hospital.  The bill narrowly passed the Senate on its return, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting the tie-breaking vote.  Since that time, women’s healthcare facilities have met with onerous regulatory standards, which are more burdensome than other outpatient facilities.  SB 1115 would eliminate language classifying facilities in which five or more first trimester abortions per month are performed as hospitals for the purpose of compliance with regulations of the Board of Health related to construction, maintenance, operation, staffing, and equipping of hospitals.  SB 1116 would provide that regulations of the Board of Health for the construction, maintenance, operation, staffing, and equipping of hospitals shall apply to facilities in which five or more first trimester abortions per month are performed only when the design or construction of such facility is initiated after July 1, 2013.  The original 2011 legislation did not seek to treat these women’s health clinics as any other outpatient medical office; a comparison review of the regulation of other outpatient facilities performing more invasive procedures reveals as much.  These bills would not only bring the women’s health clinics back into a more appropriate classification, it would also align the building requirements on these facilities within reason.

At the end of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge exclaims that he will not shut out the lessons of the Three Spirits, beseeching, “Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”

If there are lessons to be learned from the spirits of General Assembly past, they are that political discourse must be grounded in sound reasoning.  Now, we just need a sponge to wipe away the writing on the stone.

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