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Va. Begins Review Process for Harsh Abortion Clinic Rules

Va. Begins Review Process for Harsh Abortion Clinic Rules

June 9, 2014 — Virginia's Board of Health on Thursday issued a public update on its review of new abortion clinic regulations scheduled to take effect this month, noting that it could take years to complete the process, the Washington Post's "Virginia Politics" reports (Portnoy, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 6/5).

The rules are among several regulations implemented under a law that McAuliffe's predecessor, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), signed in 2012. The rules specify various building standards -- such as exam room size, hallway width and ceiling height -- and create new requirements for inspections, recordkeeping and medical procedures. The 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, like plastic surgery (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/14).

Meanwhile, one of the state's 18 abortion clinics filed suit over the regulations, and the judge in that case is expected to issue a ruling in August (Nolan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/6).

In May, McAuliffe appointed five abortion-rights supporters to the state Board of Health and ordered the board to review the regulations (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/14).

Review Process

At Thursday's meeting, the board outlined the review process for the rules ("Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 6/5).

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a 45-day public comment period will open June 16 (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/6). The state Health Department will have through Oct. 1 to complete a report based on the public's feedback.

Marissa Levine, the state's interim health commissioner, will then use the report to help her decide whether to retain, amend or repeal the rules, and is expected to announce her decision to the board in December. According to the Post, the board will not take action on her decision until next year, by which time McAuliffe likely will have appointed more board members who support abortion rights.

If Levine decides the rules should be amended, the board and McAuliffe will have time to issue their recommendations before the Health Department begins developing the new regulations ("Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 6/5).

Clinic Waivers

The Board of Health also said at Thursday's meeting that abortion clinics in the state could apply for temporary variances if they are unable to comply with the regulations within the two-year grace period permitted by the state.

According to the Times-Dispatch, the state health commissioner can grant the variances to clinics that demonstrate that postponing compliance will not adversely affect patient outcomes or safety, and if the clinics have a plan in place for eventual compliance.

Two of Virginia's 18 clinics have applied for the variances, and abortion-rights supporters have said that up to 11 other clinics might also need to apply before their grace periods expire in the coming months.

Comments

Cianti Stewart-Reid of Planned Parenthood, which operates seven clinics in the state, said at Thursday's meeting that the board must remove the "medically unnecessary and onerous" building requirements. She added that four Planned Parenthood clinics are in compliance with the rules, two would likely need waivers and another does not fall under the guidelines.

Tarina Keene of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said that the review process would hopefully provide an opportunity to "silence the politics and ideology that surrounds these regulations" and focus on "sound, unbiased advice from medical experts" (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/6).

Meanwhile, Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb said that the rules "are great regulations" that are "doing what they're supposed to do when there are deficiencies" in the clinics ("Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 6/5).