The Virginia Board of Health voted 11 to 2 on Friday to pass a restrictive set of abortion clinic regulations that opponents say could shut down all 20 first-trimester abortion providers in the state. The new rules will force existing clinics to meet the same architectural requirements as newly constructed hospitals, including 5-foot wide public hallways, new ventilation systems, covered front entrances and drinking fountains in waiting rooms.
The board passed the same regulations -- known as TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) -- in June, with an amendment to grandfather in existing clinics so that they could remain open. But the board tossed out that amendment in September after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and outspoken anti-abortion advocate, sent the board a strongly-worded letter threatening to deny them state-funded legal counsel. The board again rejected that amendment in passing the regulations on Friday, giving existing clinics just over a year to undergo the necessary renovations.
Supporters of the regulations, including Cuccinelli, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), and local anti-abortion groups, said they are meant to protect women's health and safety. But reproductive-rights advocates argue that first-trimester abortion clinics do not need to be regulated like surgical centers because they do not perform surgeries.
"This is a political attack on abortion designed to outlaw women’s health centers in the state," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Medically unnecessary regulations like these could effectively rob women throughout the state of the services they need to make personal decisions about pregnancy free from political interference."
Once McDonnell approves the regulations -- which were pending until the Board of Health vote -- they will have the force of law. There will be a 30-day public comment period on the regulations, after which McDonnell is expected to sign them.