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Review of Va. Abortion Clinic Rules Prompts Thousands of Public Comments

July 31, 2014 — The Virginia Department of Health at midnight Thursday will close the public comment phase of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's (D) order to review strict abortion clinic regulations passed under his predecessor, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), the Washington Post reports.

After the comment period closes, state Health Commissioner Marissa Levine will have until Oct. 1 to finish an evaluation of the regulations.

On Tuesday, abortion-rights groups Progress VA, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia collectively submitted 4,844 comments to the state Department of Health (Portnoy, Washington Post, 7/29). Wendy Klein, a Virginia internist said, "These targeted regulations do nothing to improve safety, but rather create barriers" (WVIR, 7/29).

Meanwhile, comments submitted through the state's online portal are dominated by about 1,880 comments from supporters of the existing rules (Washington Post, 7/29).

Background

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.

In May, McAuliffe appointed five abortion-rights supporters to the state Board of Health and ordered the board to conduct a review, which began in June with a 45-day public comment period (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/9).

Lengthy Process Expected

Although McAuliffe has accelerated the regulatory review process, it "still could take years to complete," according to the Post. The permanent clinic regulations took effect in June 2013 (Washington Post, 7/29). However, the Board of Health has said that abortion clinics in the state may apply for temporary variances if they are unable to comply with the regulations within a two-year grace period permitted by the state (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/9).

If Levine decides to amend or repeal the rules, the health department will prepare a notice to the board, which could include general recommendations or specific changes.

If the board approves the notice, health department officials would write preliminary draft text, which could take 18 to 24 months, followed by another round of public comments (Washington Post, 7/29).