July 19, 2012 — Abortion-rights advocates this week fired back against Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's (R) refusal to certify new regulations requiring abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as new hospitals, AP/NBC Washington reports (AP/NBC Washington, 7/17).
Cuccinelli on Monday said that the state Board of Health unlawfully voted last month 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.
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, 7/17).
Reaction to Cuccinelli's Decision
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said Cuccinelli, who opposes abortion rights, is trying to force the board to rewrite the rules so that existing abortion clinics will have to either shut down or undergo costly renovations.
Katherine Greenier, director of the ACLU of Virginia's Women's Rights Project, said Cuccinelli is exceeding his authority by "imposing his personal political views in the regulatory process." She added, "While the Attorney General has the responsibility to review proposed regulations to determine if the Board has the authority to adopt them, the law does not give his Office veto power over the Board's policy decisions about what to include in the final rules" (Bassett, Huffington Post, 7/17).
Abortion-rights supporters also launched a website to draw attention to the issue. Stephanie Arnold, the site's founder, said abortion-rights supporters plan to attend public appearances and press Cuccinelli on the clinic regulations issue (AP/NBC Washington, 7/17).
Slate Columnist Criticizes Cuccinelli
Cuccinelli's actions reflect his office's "longstanding pattern of 'interpreting' state policies in 'deeply flawed' ways to suit his own ideological views," Slate's Dahlia Lithwick writes. She adds, "Evidently [Cuccinelli] is willing to lose massive symbolic cases that serve the larger interests of nobody and accomplish nothing but do show off his Tea Party bona fides."
Lithwick writes that given the backlash against the Virginia Legislature's attempts last spring to pass a controversial ultrasound bill and a "personhood" measure, "You'd think the lesson would be clear here: Voters may be deeply conflicted on the question of abortion, but women aren't going to tolerate state efforts to eliminate it under the guise of protecting their superfragile health" (Lithwick, Slate, 7/17).