May 14, 2014 — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Monday appointed five abortion-rights supporters to the state Board of Health and ordered the board to review state regulations that require abortion clinics to meet "hospital-style" building standards, the Washington Post reports (Vozzella, Washington Post, 5/12).
The building codes are among several regulations implemented under a law that McAuliffe's predecessor, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), signed in 2012. The rules specify various building standards -- such as the size of exam rooms, widths of hallways and ceiling heights -- and create new requirements for inspections, recordkeeping 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, like plastic surgery (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/11/13).
McAuliffe during his campaign for governor pledged to issue a "guidance opinion" by mid-March that would exempt existing abortion clinics from the regulations. The guidance aims to ensure that existing facilities can continue to provide services (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/8).
However, legal experts called into question McAuliffe's authority to issue such an opinion. According to the Post, McAuliffe is now using the review process as a means to implement the changes.
Impact of New Appointments
In a statement, McAuliffe's office said all of the new board members "share his commitment to women's health and support his plan to review the health center regulations."
According to the Post, the new appointees fill one vacancy on the 15-member board and supplant four other members who will finish their terms about one month early. The early departures allowed McAuliffe to place abortion-rights supporters on the panel in time for the board's June 5th meeting.
The appointments do not give McAuliffe "clear control" over the board, nor is the board required to conduct the requested review, the Post reports.
Some abortion-rights supporters noted that state health officials have the authority to issue one-year variances to clinics that have demonstrated an effort to comply with the rules but an inability to do so by the deadline. The rules do not limit the number of successive one-year variances a clinic can receive, they said.
It is also possible that a court could stay the regulations as part of a lawsuit brought by a clinic in Falls Church.
Abortion-rights supporters praised McAuliffe's move as a "gutsy" first step toward fulfilling his campaign pledge and reversing course on increasingly harsh abortion restrictions in the state (Washington Post, 5/12).
Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said the decision demonstrated McAuliffe's commitment to setting women's health care policy based on medicine, not politics (Robertson, Reuters, 5/12).
Meanwhile, Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb said, "Whether the governor and the abortion industry like it or not, the law of Virginia requires that abortion centers have health and safety standards" (Washington Post, 5/12).
Washington Post Editorial Praises McAuliffe on Health Board Move
A Washington Post editorial commends McAuliffe for "taking a step toward fulfilling" his campaign promise "to do what he could to roll back absurd, baldly political rules imposed on the state's abortion clinics with the transparent purpose of forcing many of them to close."
According to the editorial, if McAuliffe is able to moderate the regulations, "he will preserve access to abortions each year for some 10,000 Virginia women -- many of them minorities -- who otherwise would likely be unable to find nearby clinics to perform the procedure" (Washington Post, 5/13).