Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced on Monday that he is appointing five new members to the state Board of Health and ordering the board to review controversial abortion clinic regulations.
“I am concerned that the extreme and punitive regulations adopted last year jeopardize the ability of most women’s health centers to keep their doors open and place in jeopardy the health and reproductive rights of Virginia women,” McAuliffe said.
The new regulations, part of a nationwide push for so-called "TRAP" laws, short for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, require existing first-trimester abortion clinics to comply with construction standards used for hospitals. It forces them to build hallways that are specific widths, locker rooms for staff members, new ventilation systems and larger parking lots.
The law has already caused five of Virginia's 23 abortion clinics to close, because the clinics could not afford to undergo extensive renovations.
The remaining abortion clinics in Virginia have until the end of June to comply with the regulations, which will remain in effect while the board reviews them. McAuliffe said the regulations were "arbitrary" and "marked by political interference."
With the support of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed a bill directing the Board of Health to write new regulations in 2011. The board then approved the new regulations and voted to grandfather in existing clinics, so that only newly built clinics would have to comply with the strict construction standards. But then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), an outspoken anti-abortion advocate, pressured the board into reversing that vote, making all of the state's clinics subject to the regulations.
McAuliffe narrowly defeated Cuccinelli in the 2013 gubernatorial race after promising that he would stand up for women's health and reproductive choice in Virginia. He reiterated that promise on Friday.
"I will remain a brick wall for women's health and rights," McAuliffe said. "I have three daughters and want them to stay in Virginia."
Reproductive rights advocates applauded the announcement on Monday.
“I am absolutely thrilled to see Governor McAuliffe take this bold and critical stand for the women and families of Virginia," said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
"These burdensome regulations on women’s health centers were designed to shutter the vast majority of the Commonwealth’s abortion providers -– and were enacted over a two-year saga of intimidation, pressure, and bullying by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. It is past time that these regulations are subject to the objective and evidence-based review they deserve."
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