July 17, 2012 — The office of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) on Monday refused to certify new rules requiring abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as new hospitals, saying that the state Department of Health unlawfully exempted existing clinics from the regulations, the Washington Examiner reports (Contorno, Washington Examiner, 7/16).
The Virginia Board of Health last month voted 7-4 to exempt existing abortion facilities from the new requirements, which are among several regulations being implemented under a law Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed in January. 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 new 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. Critics have said the regulations could force many of the state's 20 abortion providers to close, while supporters maintain that the rules are necessary to protect women's health (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/18).
Letter Justifying Refusal
In a letter to state Health Commissioner Karen Remley, Senior Assistant Attorney General Allyson Tysinger argued that the board "exceeded its authority" by voting to grandfather in existing facilities because the law specifically mandates that all clinics adhere to the stricter building standards.
Cuccinelli's actions do not overturn the rules. However, they will serve as the state's official position until the regulations go through an executive branch review and are returned to McDonnell, who can either approve them or send them back to the board with recommended changes (O'Dell, AP/Washington Post, 7/16).
Brian Gottstein, a spokesperson for Cuccinelli's office, said the attorney general's role is to review the regulations and certify whether they are in accordance with the law. "We make that determination solely on a legal basis, not on the basis of whether we agree with the policy or not," he said (Vozzella, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 7/16).
Calling the decision "gravely disappointing," Katherine Greenier of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said, "The attorney general is wrong when asserting that the existing women's health centers cannot be grandfathered in." She added, "He's using a forced interpretation of the law to advance an anti-choice political objective."
Victoria Cobb, president of the antiabortion-rights group the Family Foundation of Virginia, said the board had been warned about exceeding the limits of its authority. "But there were some members of the board who decided to make a political statement rather than do their job," she said (AP/Washington Post, 7/16).