September 18, 2015 — The Virginia Board of Health on Thursday voted to amend regulations targeting abortion clinics in the state, the Washington Post reports.
According to the Post, the amended rules now must undergo a 60-day comment period and be reviewed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Attorney General Mark Herring (D). The board then will hold a final vote on the rules before they are finalized (Portnoy, Washington Post, 9/17).
The regulations, passed under former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), specify various building standards, including exam room size, hallway width and ceiling height. The rules were written to specifically apply to health centers that provide abortion services.
During the regulatory process to implement the rules, the Virginia Board of Health initially voted to grandfather in pre-existing clinics so they would not be subject to the new design and construction standards. However, the state Board of Health reversed its decision after then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) in an opinion told the board that the rules should apply to pre-existing facilities.
The rules went into effect in June 2013. In addition to the design and construction regulations, the rules also created new requirements for inspections, recordkeeping and medical procedures for health centers that provide abortion services.
According to abortion-rights supporters, the rules have resulted in the closure of two Virginia clinics and imposed unnecessary costs on abortion providers with the aim of shuttering more clinics. In addition, one clinic stopped providing abortion services after the passage of the initial rules.
Of the 18 clinics operating in the state in June, five have completed construction to be in compliance with the regulations. Meanwhile, 13 facilities were granted exemptions to have more time to be in compliance with the regulations.
In May, Herring wrote in an advisory opinion that the building clinic standards cannot apply to pre-existing facilities (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/8).
On Thursday, the Board of Health voted to amend the rules so that existing abortion clinics in the state would not be required to comply. Further, the rules would no longer require that clinics meet stringent building code standards or that they have transfer agreements with nearby hospitals. However, under the amended rules, clinics built in the future will have to meet some of the building requirements, the Post reports.
McAuliffe praised the decision. "Today's vote is an enormous step forward in the fight to get extreme politics out of decisions that should be between women and their doctors," he said, adding, "I applaud the Board of Health for ending this disturbing chapter in our history and for heeding the advice of experts, medical professionals and Virginia women about the best way to provide safe access to health care."
According to the Post, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and ProgressVA also praised the vote (Washington Post, 9/17).
Manassas, Va., Abortion Clinic To Close
In related news, after operating for 27 years, the Amethyst Health Center for Women in Manassas, Va., will close on Sept. 28 because its founder and owner is retiring, Northern Virginia Media Services/INSIDENOVA reports. Amethyst Health Center is the only provider of first-trimester abortion services in the Prince William-area.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia's Alena Yarmosky said the owner, age 76, is ready to stop working. "She's a fighter and she's been fighting for 27 years and she's just ready to retire," Yarmosky said.
Further, the clinic has faced "an enormous amount of anti-choice pressure," Yarmosky said. She noted that it has faced constant harassment because of an antiabortion-rights crisis pregnancy center "strategically located" next to the clinic to confuse and divert Amethyst's patients. In addition, antiabortion-rights advocates have protested outside the clinic and it has been vandalized multiple times, according to Northern Virginia Media Services/INSIDENOVA.
The closure of the clinic means 17 abortion clinics will remain in Virginia. Yarmosky said there were 22 clinics four years ago, adding, "This [latest closure] is really a big loss for women in Virginia and it's really sad."
According to Northern Virginia Media Services/INSIDENOVA, it is unlikely that a new provider will open in Manassas because of zoning requirements (O-2015-15) recently passed by the Manassas City Council, which require special-use permits for abortion clinics as well as certain other medical facilities. However, similar restrictions are not in place in Prince William County (Northern Virginia Media Services/INSIDENOVA, 9/16).