Under pressure from Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia Board of Health voted on Friday to pass a set of building regulations that could force many abortion clinics in the state to shut down.
Opponents of the regulations, which include minimum hallway widths, specific ventilation systems and covered entrances, argue that they are medically unnecessary and meant for the construction of new hospitals -- not as regulations for existing outpatient abortion clinics. None of the 20 clinics in the state that are applying for a new license currently meet the requirements, and in order to come into compliance in the allotted two-year time period they would have to undergo costly, extensive renovations.
The board voted to pass the regulations in June along with an amendment that would have grandfathered in existing clinics. But Cuccinelli refused to certify the version the board passed and told members that adopting such an amendment was outside their scope of power. He said the legislation that directed the board to regulate abortion clinics as hospitals, sponsored by Del. Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg), did not intend for existing clinics to be exempt. The legislation called for the board to pass regulations on building specifics.
Ahead of Friday's vote, Cuccinelli warned the board they if it tried to amend the proposed regulations again, it would have to pay for legal counsel for the rules' defense. Adding to the political pressure, McDonnell appointed to the board Dr. John Seeds, vice chairman of the anti-abortion group OBGYNS for Life.
Women's health advocates believe McDonnell and Cuccinelli misused their power and bullied the board into passing the regulations because of their own anti-abortion politics.
“Not a single other type of health care provider in Virginia has been subjected to this level of political bullying and government interference,” said Michelle Movahed, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “These unwarranted requirements specifically target reproductive health care providers—many of which have been serving Virginia women and families for roughly 40 years—with regulations that have no medical purpose."
Cuccinelli and McDonnell maintain that their personal politics have not affected the process.
"Our office merely reviews the regulations and certifies whether they are compliant with the law or not," said Brian Gottstein, a spokesperson for Cuccinelli. "We make that determination solely on a legal basis, not on the basis of whether we agree with the policy or not."