April 15, 2013 — The Virginia Board of Health on Friday voted 11-2 to approve regulations that would require the state's abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as hospitals, the Washington Post reports (Vozzella, Washington Post, 4/12).
The Virginia Board of Health first approved the new regulations in September, after state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) refused to sign off on the board's original decision to exempt existing facilities from the rules. Cuccinelli then approved the new version and submitted it to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who certified the measure on Dec. 28, and posted the regulations to a state website for a 60-day public comment period before they returned to the board for final review (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/4).
The regulations have already been certified by Cuccinelli and now will be reviewed by two state agencies and McDonnell, who is expected to sign off on them (Washington Post, 4/12). If finalized, the rules would take effect by late 2014.
The new regulations, which implement a 2011 state law, include requirements governing the width of public hallways, the size of janitor's closets and the number of parking spaces at abortion clinics. They also require clinics to undergo inspections (Eckholm, New York Times, 4/12). The regulations will apply to facilities that provide more than five abortions monthly.
Elizabeth Nash -- state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute -- said about half of states have structural requirements for abortion clinics, but Virginia's proposed new regulations are "just about the most restrictive" (Smith, Politico, 4/15).
Katherine Greenier -- a project director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia -- said Virginia clinics will "need to pay anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to a million dollars to meet architectural standards that are medically unnecessary" (New York Times, 4/12).
According to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia spokesperson Alena Yarmosky, the regulations could force as many as 15 of the state's 20 abortion clinics to close (Robertson, Reuters, 4/12).
Supporters of the requirements, meanwhile, said the rules are meant to ensure high standards of care. "We see them as common-sense regulations," said Susan B. Anthony List spokesperson Mallory Quigley (Politico, 4/15).
According to the New York Times, the regulations also have become an issue in this year's gubernatorial election, which is expected to pit Cuccinelli against abortion-rights supporter Terry McAuliffe (D).
McAuliffe said in an email to the Times that the board's decision "was an unnecessary move that was the result of Ken Cuccinelli forcing his divisive ideological agenda on Virginian women."
Cuccinelli spokesperson Anna Nix countered that McAuliffe's comment "shows a total disregard for Virginia's elected legislators, suggesting that [McAuliffe] will just ignore the laws he doesn't like" (New York Times, 4/12).