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Mainstream Media Misrepresents Virginia’s Abortion Clinic Regulations


The abortion regulations recently adopted by Virginia’s State Board of Health have generated considerable criticism from mainstream media outlets. The New York Times ran a story on them last Thursday, emphasizing the seemingly arbitrary rules about hallway widths and room sizes. Not to be outdone, on Sunday the Washington Post devoted a house editorial to the new regulations. The Post criticized the new rules as “absurdly onerous and utterly unnecessary,” going on to say that “the new regulatory regime provides anti-abortion activists a shameful victory.”

Not surprisingly, several important aspects of this story have gone unreported by the mainstream media. First, the purpose of rules is to regulate abortion clinics in a manner similar to hospitals. The Virginia State Board of Health, which includes members appointed by both current Republican governor Bob McDonnell and former Democratic governor Tim Kaine, adopted these new rules by a 12–1 margin. South Carolina recently instituted a similar set of regulations, and those have withstood subsequent legal challenges. All of this should give pause to those who feel these rules only represent an underhanded attempt to regulate abortion out of existence.

The media is also failing to report that Virginia abortion clinics currently face regulations similar to those faced by cosmetic and oral-surgery centers. In reality, abortion poses greater health risks than the procedures performed by those outpatient clinics. Furthermore, these new regulations include commonsense requirements that a doctor stay on the premises until a woman is ready to be discharged. The new regulations also call for improved sanitary conditions and the presence of emergency equipment in cases of cardiac arrest. Additionally, some of the rules which the mainstream media has deemed arbitrary have merit to them. Regulations about hall widths and room sizes, for example, have been put in place to ensure that emergency personnel can easily access patients.

The mainstream media’s coverage of sanctity-of-life issues never fails to disappoint. In the past year alone we have seen deplorable conditions found in Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion mill and numerous examples of clinic misconduct captured on the LiveActionFilms videos. As such, one might hope that the mainstream media might acknowledge that there might be some merit to improving the regulation of abortion clinics — even if they disliked the specific rules that Virginia put in place. Unfortunately, evenhanded coverage of abortion issues is simply too much to expect.

— Michael New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.


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