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Virginia Abortion Clinic Fights New Restrictions In Court

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An OB-GYN clinic in Falls Church, Va., had its first hearing on Wednesday in a case against a new set of abortion restrictions that are threatening to shut down many clinics in the state.

Rosemary Codding, director of the Falls Church Medical Center, said her clinic would require nearly $2 million in renovations over the next year in order to come into compliance with all the new building standards for abortion clinics that were approved by the Board of Health in April. The so-called "TRAP" laws, short for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, essentially require clinics in Virginia that provide first-trimester abortions to become mini-hospitals in order to stay open.

Codding said the gross annual income of her clinic, which provides pap smears, contraception services and prenatal care in addition to first-trimester abortions to 3,000 patients each year, is only about $800,000. She has to use most of that money to pay staff and rent and purchase medical supplies.

"I couldn't even get a loan to pay back the cost of those renovations because we don't have the income to support it," she said in an interview. "It would cost me four years' worth of income to make all the changes they're asking for, and we wouldn't be able to update our medical equipment in the meantime."

Clinics are now required to have a staff lounge with showers in it, a spacious janitor's closet, and a new ventilation system with the capacity to completely exchange the air in each patient room twice a day. Codding said she doesn't currently have the space to build a larger janitor's closet or staff lounge, and she doesn't feel that those additions would in any way improve patients' health and safety.

"They would actually decrease patients' safety," she said. "We already have a nice little janitor's closet that is well-organized, well-labeled, close to the patient rooms and equipped with supply kits to take care of biomedical spills quickly. Under these regulations, we would have to find a new space for these supplies that is further away from the patient rooms and makes safety a little more difficult."

Codding said no women have died from getting abortions at her clinic since it opened in 2002, and only one has experienced a serious complication and had to be transferred to a hospital.

But supporters of the new regulations, including Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and several anti-abortion advocacy groups throughout the state, claim that they were put in place to protect women's health and safety. Virginia's Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a law demanding the new regulations in 2011, and Cuccinelli, the current Republican gubernatorial nominee, has been accused of bullying the Board of Health into approving them in their current stringent form.

Cuccinelli is defending the regulations against Codding's lawsuit. His office denies having swayed the board and says it's his duty to defend Virginia's laws when they are challenged in court.

"This office’s job was to advise the board how to craft the regulations in accordance with the law," Cuccinelli spokesperson Brian Gottstein told HuffPost. "Any claim that the board of health was bullied into adopting the regulations is contradicted by media interviews given by board members themselves."

Two women's health centers in Virginia have already shuttered their doors since the regulations went into effect in June. Others have said the regulations will sharply raise the cost of abortions for women and insurance companies. Codding said she brought the lawsuit in order to make sure she's able to keep her clinic open for her patients.

"We're a community center, so many of the people we see have no health insurance and have never seen another doctor," she said. "These regulations are really dramatically disturbing for me, as someone that has dedicated the last 14 years to expanding women's health to a population that often doesn't take care of themselves."

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