Va. Regulations for Abortion Clinics Put Strain on Providers

September 21, 2011 — New regulations that require Virginia abortion clinics to comply with strict building regulations might force several facilities to close as soon as next year, threatening not only women's access to abortion services but also routine screenings, exams and family planning services that many clinics provide, Kate Sheppard writes in Mother Jones (Sheppard, Mother Jones, 9/21).

The regulations, approved by the Virginia Board of Health on Sept. 15, require abortion facilities to meet the same building requirements as ambulatory surgical centers. They specify the size of exam rooms, require public corridors to have a minimum width of five feet and stipulate minimum ceiling heights of seven feet 10 inches, among other specifications (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/16).

At the Planned Parenthood clinic in Falls Church, Va., 3,900 patients received health screenings and family planning services last year, while about 900 received abortion care. To comply with the new rules, the clinic would have to make several renovations to its hallways, pre-op rooms, parking spaces, HVAC system and bathrooms, which is essentially impossible in the 3,300 square foot rented space, according to Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parent of Metropolitan Washington.

Even clinics that potentially could meet the new building codes likely will need to make significant changes. The Richmond Planned Parenthood office finished constructing a new facility in 2009 under the same standards as an outpatient surgical center in anticipation of new regulations. Still, architectural changes mandated by the new rules are expected to cost $200,000 to $900,000, said Paulette McElwain, the office's CEO. One of the requirements -- relocating a bathroom -- will cost nearly $90,000, she added.

Meyers worries that if Falls Church clinic is forced to close, "the ancillary effect of this is that people will not have access to health care." According to Meyers, the regulations are an attempt "to make abortion so difficult to obtain that in all practicality, women do not have access to abortion" (Mother Jones, 9/21).