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Virginia Board Of Health Votes Down Controversial Abortion Clinic Requirement [UPDATE]

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Jordan Romer, right, signals her disapproval of comments during public comment portion of a state Board of Health meeting in Richmond, Va., Friday, June 15, 2012.
Jordan Romer, right, signals her disapproval of comments during public comment portion of a state Board of Health meeting in Richmond, Va., Friday, June 15, 2012.

The Virginia Board of Health voted 7 to 4 on Friday to strike from the state's new abortion clinic regulations a controversial provision that would have required existing abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as hospitals.

Opponents of the requirement, which specified things like hallway widths and drinking fountains in waiting rooms, said it would be so cost-prohibitive that it could effectively shut down all 20 abortion providers in the state. Supporters of the provision, including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, said the rule was meant to protect women's safety.

As the regulations now stand, only new construction of any women's health clinics that provide five or more first-trimester abortions per month must comply with the hospital building standards.

The board rejected an amendment to strike down a provision that allows the Department of Health to arrive on the premises of an abortion clinic at any time for an inspection, thus keeping the rule, according to the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women's Health.

Board members are still considering other provisions in the new regulations. After Friday's final vote, there will be a 60-day comment period before the regulations go to McDonnell's desk for review.

UPDATE: 5:24 p.m. -- The board passed the amended version of the regulations on Friday afternoon.

Among the new requirements is a provision that would allow inspectors to request lists of patients from clinics, remove patients' medical records from clinics and access clinic security plans.

Women's rights advocates approved the board's decision to grandfather in existing abortion clinics, but remain opposed to the regulations as a whole.

"We commend the seven members of the Board of Health who responded to the concerns of thousands of Virginians and refused to single out existing women's health clinics for burdensome and medically unnecessary building requirements," said ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl in a statement. "However, the Board failed to address dangerous provisions that threaten patient privacy and safety. Allowing government bureaucrats to compile lists of women seeking an abortion and access to their medical records is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to shame and intimidate women out of seeking safe and legal medical care. Far from 'protecting' women, these ideologically-driven regulations are a serious threat to patient privacy and safety."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the board rejected a provision that allowed surprise inspections of clinics by the Department of Health. In fact, they rejected an amendment that would have prevented such inspections.

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