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Actions by Va. Attorney General Create Uncertainty for Abortion Clinics

Actions by Va. Attorney General Create Uncertainty for Abortion Clinics

July 31, 2012 — Abortion clinics in Virginia are unsure how to respond to state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's (R) recent refusal to certify new regulations for the facilities, the Washington Post reports (Kumar, Washington Post, 7/28).

The regulations require abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as new hospitals. Cuccinelli on July 16 said that the state Board of Health unlawfully voted in June to exempt existing 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/19).

State inspectors already have begun inspecting the state's 22 clinics that provide abortion services, but it is unclear how the board will interpret Cuccinelli's position. According to state figures, clinics that need to make significant renovations would need to spend $525 per square foot on the changes, or more than $2.6 million for a 5,000 square-foot facility.

Since the board voted, McDonnell has appointed three new members to the board, including a physician who opposes abortion and helped draft the original regulations. Abortion-rights supporters say the recent actions by Cuccinelli and McDonnell are meant to circumvent the board's decision to exempt existing facilities from the rules.

"Both actions are evidence of the coordinated effort by the attorney general, the governor and their radical right-wing partners to stop at nothing in their crusade to take away the rights of Virginia women," according to a statement from a coalition of women's rights advocates.

Cuccinelli and McDonnell said they are constitutionally required to act. They have denied that they are attempting to circumvent the board's authority (Washington Post, 7/28).

Editorial Says McDonnell Should Uphold Board's Ruling

"Cuccinelli has given a boost to the crusade to limit abortion rights, a cause he championed for years as a legislator" by refusing to certify the regulations, a Washington Post editorial states. "The move is classic Cuccinelli: ideological activism masquerading as professional legal 'advice,'" the editorial adds.

The "real purpose" of the regulations is to "use extrajudicial means to roll back abortion rights, conferred by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, by making the procedure inaccessible to most women in the commonwealth," the editorial notes, concluding that McDonnell "should let the board's decision stand" (Washington Post, 7/27).