In the re-vote on the Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers today, the Board of Health voted against the grandfather amendment they had previously approved, voted against a newly proposed amendment to give the Commissioner explicit power to waive the new requirements, and approved the original, unamended regulations.
Without significant fundraising, all but one or two abortion clinics in Virginia will close.
Here is how the meeting went:
When I arrived at approximately 7:40am, there were about 260 people outside of the building. In addition to the pro-abortion-access protesters, there were a great deal of anti-abortion protesters, mustered by the Family Foundation and several Catholic churches. The anti-abortion crowd included two huge trucks plastered with pictures of dead fetuses, purported to be the results of abortions, and encouraging viewers to illegalization abortion. This was a real change from the last Board of Health vote, at which there were only one or two counter-protesters. The dynamic today was more like 60/40, in favor of the pro-access camp.
Some of the anti-abortion signs alluded to the pretext of the regulations making abortion safer, but most of them were just explicitly anti-abortion. ‘Defund Planned Parenthood’ signs were in ample supply, which was sometimes confusing, being that ‘Defend Planned Parenthood’ signs were also in evidence on the other side.
One hundred people had already been let into the building when I arrived; the actual Board Meeting room fit 100 protestors, while the secondary viewing room fit 80, and the lobby outside of the viewing room fit maybe 25. While we had been given the impression that entry would begin to be allowed sometime after 7:30am, the entry was actually slated for 7:30am. I was told that the Family Foundation was informed of this change, but pro-access organizers were not. Haven’t confirmed this, but being that the husband of the chair of the Virginia Family Foundation is on the Board of Health, I would not be surprised.
That said, inside the chambers, we were pretty heavily outnumbered.
Police presence was surprisingly light. I counted nine police officers, augmented by private building security and two Fire Marshalls (after last time’s debacle, the building managers were being extremely stringent). There were four police cruisers, a single mobile command center, and a police van.
Last time we protested at the Board of Health- same building, less protesters, at about 175 at peak- there were 23 squad cars, a mobile command canter, a tactical team (of the sort that generated so much attention at the March 3rd rally at the capital), and a police van.
The police were also incredibly careful in their behavior to the crowd- it was the first time, ever, I didn’t feel as though police were antagonizing the crowd, or waiting to create an excuse to make arrests. This was the first time I approached a police officer, as a protester, and was spoken to respectfully.
I don’t particularly know why the Henrico PD had such an understated turnout today. There are two theories currently being entertained: one, the last protest happened soon after the March 3rd capitol protest, which involved a substantial civil disobedience lawsuit. Two, the police dialed back their response in deference of the many, many, anti-abortion protesters.
The situation inside the building was much stricter than it had been last time, probably because of the increased volume of protesters- signs reading “Expect wanding and search of baggage at any time”, “By order of the Fire Marshal, no standing or gathering in halls”, and “All entrants subject to search” were prominently displayed, and anyone entering either the meeting room or viewing room was subject to wanding and bag search.
In any case, here is how the meeting happened:
Public comment was limited to an hour, three minutes long each. The first half of the comments were anti-abortion, but the second half were not. Many of the pro-access protesters deferred their comments to healthcare and legal professionals.
The Board broke for lunch. Notably, their lunch was limited to the Board members, the building staff, and representatives from Ken Cuccinelli’s office.
When the Board resumed, and the amendment came up, it was briefly discussed- a representative from the AG’s office weighed in several times, and members against the amendment repeatedly denied that it would restrict access to abortion in Virginia- and then voted down. The vote was 13-2 against the amendment. (The grandfather clause). Several of the board members attested to how their opinions had changed over the intervening months, and suggested that they simply hadn’t understood the amendment the first time. This seems to indicate compulsion by the AG’s office.
A board member suggested another amendment, which would give the Commissioner the power to waive the requirements of the new legislation, if a clinic couldn’t pay to retrofit, and if no patients were endangered by waiving the requirement. It was also voted down 13-2.
The original language of the regulations were voted in by the same dynamic. The anti-abortion crowd cheered, compelling the pro-access faction to begin chanting ‘shame’, and be subsequently escorted from the building. The escort was surprisingly polite, and there were no arrests.
There were tears from our side, and after some time, both factions, much reduced in number by the long meeting, gathered in the parking lot. Several elderly white men in suits, from the anti-abortion side, cheered and whooped, and several of the women danced. The police politely explained that everyone would need to disperse. There were some chants, various Board members left (with police escorts), and eventually we did disperse.