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Lawsuit Against Va. Abortion Clinic Rules Allowed To Continue, Judge Rules

Lawsuit Against Va. Abortion Clinic Rules Allowed To Continue, Judge Rules

October 11, 2013 — An Arlington County, Va., judge on Wednesday ruled that a lawsuit filed by the Falls Church Medical Center against new state abortion clinic regulations can proceed, the Washington Post reports.

Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Kendrick rejected the state's request to dismiss the case, saying full arguments should proceed in the suit that likely will be decided by the state appeals court (Weiner/Olivo, Washington Post, 10/9). The ruling mostly avoided the merits of the clinic's case, instead focusing on procedural issues (Barakat, AP/Virginian-Pilot, 10/9).

Background on Lawsuit

The case stems from requirements that abortion clinics meet the same building standards as newly constructed hospitals. The requirements are among several regulations being implemented under a law Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed last year. The rules specify several building standards -- such as the size of exam rooms, widths of hallways and ceiling heights -- and create new requirements for inspections, record-keeping and medical procedures. The rules were written to specifically apply to health centers that provide abortion services and do not apply to other medical facilities that offer invasive procedures, such as colonoscopies, plastic surgery and oral surgery (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/18/12).

In June 2012, the state Board of Health decided that existing facilities would be exempt from the rules, but Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) said the board's decision was unlawful and refused to certify the requirements. In Sept. 2012, Cuccinelli sent members of the board a memo threatening legal action if they exempted existing clinics, and the board overturned its prior ruling (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/13/12).

Arguments in the Case

In the case, medical center attorneys argued that abortion clinics were treated differently than other outpatient medical clinics (Washington Post, 10/9).

Michael Robinson -- a lawyer for the clinic -- said the board's initial attempt to exempt existing clinics showed that an exemption would be acceptable and that the final regulations were arbitrarily imposed (AP/Virginian-Pilot, 10/9).

State Solicitor General Earle Duncan Getchell defended the regulations, saying the Board of Health was adhering to Cuccinelli's orders and the law (Washington Post, 10/9). In addition to requesting the case be dismissed, Getchell said Kendrick should only consider whether the regulations were legal. Getchell also argued that the judge does not have the power to consider whether the Board of Health should exempt existing clinics (AP/Virginian-Pilot, 10/9).

Response to Hearing

Prior to the hearing, abortion-rights supporters rallied outside the building.

Afterward, health center director Rosemary Codding applauded the ruling, saying the judge's decision was a "spiritually uplifting" victory during a time of hardships for her practice (Washington Post, 10/9). She added, "We're trying to plan for what we need to put in place," but the required changes are costly and "do nothing to improve the care we give to women."

Cuccinelli spokesperson Brian Gottstein said the regulations were "crafted in accordance with the law the General Assembly has passed, including the fact that clinics existing at the time could not legally be 'grandfathered' from the regulations" (AP/Virginian-Pilot, 10/9).