- The Virginia legislature approved the increased regulations this year. (Photo: Associated Press)
This year, Planned Parenthood hopes to expand its gynecological services for low-income women in Virginia Beach. First, it'll have to convince Virginia Beach that poor women actually need gynecologists.
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia is seeking approval to make $200,000 in improvements to two operating rooms in its Virginia Beach health center. There, it plans to perform non-emergency surgical procedures to treat stuff like ovarian cysts, infertility, and incontinence in women. The bureaucratic hurdle that stands in its way: A Certificate of Public Need doled out by the Virginia Department of Health. At a public forum held to debate the certificate Monday, dozens of protesters flooded the proceedings to argue that Virginia Beach doesn't need Planned Parenthood's services, which they characterized as "racist," "eugenics," and "genocide."
The Planned Parenthood health center, of course, also provides abortions. And Monday's fire-and-brimstone forum provided a taste of what's in store for abortion clinics across the state in the coming years.
In February, state legislators voted to enact stricter regulations on the state's first-trimester abortion providers. The exact specifications of the regulations are to be determined, but other states that have adopted these targeted regs have required their abortion clinics to undergo expensive renovations to look more like hospitals—a shift that would force abortion clinics to secure exactly the kinds of changes that Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia is seeking to cinch now, regardless of the looming new law.
To recap: anti-abortion politicians in the Virginia legislature want the state's abortion providers to beef up their facilities to be more like hospitals; anti-abortion activists on the ground want to prevent those improvements at all costs. The legislature says that it's invested in securing the "safety" of women undergoing the relatively uncomplicated procedure of a first-trimester abortion. But anti-abortion activists protesting the Virginia Beach health center's planned improvements say that those conspicuously safe operation rooms could allow the clinic to perform even more complicated procedures—like second trimester abortions.
"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Erin Zabel, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia's Director of Marketing and Public Relations. Zabel says that the organization has no plans to provide second-trimester abortions in Virginia Beach—and that first-trimester abortions make up only 3 percent of the clinic's reproductive health services now. That hasn't stopped anti-abortion activists from closing in on both sides in the state—simultaneously forcing abortion providers to ramp up their facilities while protesting their efforts to do so.
"There is a very small, vocal, loyal group of folks here in the area that protest everything we do," says Zabel. They protested Planned Parenthood's plans to open the clinic, they protested the construction company that made it, and they protest the patients who enter it. But they haven't gained a voice in the actual business practices of the clinic until this week. "There's been nothing for them to do except complain," says Zabel. "But here, the public hearing is actually a part of the application process."
That process could make providing healthcare harder for Planned Parenthood, as the public forum testimony is likely to inspire increased state scrutiny on the health center's plans in the coming months. In the end, though, "we have every confidence that our application will be examined on its merits," Zabel says. "If someone wants to come in and inspect our facility, it doesn’t bother us. The politics go on and on, but some women just can’t wait for services."