Va. Board of Health Approves Abortion Clinic Regulations

September 16, 2011 — The Virginia Board of Health on Thursday approved regulations for abortion clinics that some abortion-rights advocates said could force many facilities to close, the New York Times reports (Tavernise, New York Times, 9/15).

The regulations, which were released in draft form last month, 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. The regulations were issued under a Virginia law (SB 924) that took effect on July 1 and require the Board of Health to create new standards for all clinics that perform at least five first-trimester abortions per month (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/6).

The board approved the regulations in a 12-1 vote after four-and-a-half hours of "testy debate" among board members, state officials and residents, the Washington Post reports. Regulatory changes by the board normally take up to two years to implement, but state officials have rushed approval of the rules, which would take effect Dec. 31 if approved by Gov. Robert McDonnell (R). According to the Post, they are considered emergency regulations that could be in effect for as long as 18 months before the board approves permanent rules.

During the hearing, the board adopted four amendments to protect health records, decrease the number of inspections, lower the fee for clinics for the first year and mandate that inspectors identify themselves. However, the board defeated 14 amendments -- mostly offered by James Edmondson, a board member appointed by former Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) -- to ease the regulations. Assistant Attorney General Allyson Tysinger told members that the amendments were outside the board's jurisdiction.

Edmondson said he was "offended" that Tysinger would not let the amendments come to a vote. State Del. Charniele Herring (D) accused Tysinger of acting at the request of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who opposes abortion rights and has issued an opinion in favor of the regulations.

Abortion-rights organizations spent weeks petitioning, sending letters and holding rallies to express their opposition to the regulations, arguing that the rules require cost-prohibitive renovations that are not related to health and safety (Kumar, Washington Post, 9/15). Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said, "We consider these to be the most onerous regulations of abortion providers in the country" (New York Times, 9/15).

The regulations now go to McDonnell and Cuccinelli for review (Washington Post, 9/15).