According to Virginia law, anyone who "carnally knows, without the use of force, a child thirteen years of age or older but under fifteen years of age, such person shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony” punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
But Herring says that the fact of a minor girl’s pregnancy alone, “without additional information or evidence, is not sufficient to create a reason to suspect that the child is an ‘abused or neglected child’” under Virginia’s mandatory reporter statute, which requires certain professionals to report suspected child abuse.
“In my opinion, [if] a VDH [Virginia Dept. of Health] licensing inspector who is a nurse during the course of a hospital inspection learns that a fourteen-year-old girl received services related to her pregnancy, [he or she] is not required to make a report of child abuse unless there is reason to suspect that a parent or other person responsible for the child's care committed, or allowed to be committed, the unlawful sexual act upon the child,” Herring stated in a Sept. 12 official advisory opinion to State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine.
“The problem is, the people trained to know, or investigate to find out, are law enforcement, not an untrained staffer at an abortion center,” the Family Foundation of Virginia (TFFVA) stated in a post on its website.
“Unfortunately, in an age of human trafficking, the medical personnel at an abortion center, or any medical facility, can’t just assume that a girl isn’t a victim of sexual abuse.”
“They claim to be health care operations, so if they are, they have the same obligations and responsibilities as other health care organizations,” TFFVA president Victoria Cobb said. “They shouldn’t be exempt because abortion is controversial.”
TFFVA claims that Herring’s opinion unilaterally changes a Virginia law that has been uncontested for 14 years, in addition to reversing the decisions of two former attorneys general.
“First was a 2003 opinion issued by then Attorney General Jerry Kilgore that required health care officials to report statutory rape when the victim reveals it during conversation,” the group said.
“More concerning, the second was a 2001 opinion by then Attorney General and now respected Court of Appeals Judge Randolph Beales requiring teachers to report sexual acts against a child regardless of whether the teacher suspected or believed the child’s parent or other responsible person committed the sex crime.”
In March, TFFVA learned that the Roanoke Medical Center for Women may have violated state law by failing to obtain parental consent forms before performing abortions on three teenage girls, at least two of whom were only 14 at the time.
TFFVA then filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking VDH if, in the course of inspecting abortion clinics, they had ever reported the possibility of rape to social services or the police.
The agency eventually responded, saying: “VDH does not have any documents that are responsive to your request,” TFFVA reported.