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.
99 Problems (JAY-Z)
Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/06/03/494238/fehrnstrom-shiny-objects-women/" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."
The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/30/perino-equal-pay-issue-is-a-distraction-for-just-48-hours/" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."
Just My Imagination (The Temptations)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/john-mccain-war-on-women_n_1455591.html" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.
Butterfly Fly Away (Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/priebus-says-gender-battle-as-fictonal-as-caterpillar-war.html" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."
Distraction (Angels And Airwaves)
Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
We Don't Care (Kanye West)
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."