NRL News

Va. Board of Health rolls back protective abortion clinic regulations, but many more steps before changes take effect

by | Sep 18, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

medicalroomAs universally expected, a revamped Virginia Board of Health began the process of gutting regulations that would have upgraded what was required of abortion clinics in the Commonwealth. The vote was 9-6.

However the regulatory process is so incredibly complicated it could be years before the amended rules are incorporated.

Reporting for the Richmond Times Dispatch, Jim Nolan explained that the board received over 14,000 public comments.

“Thursday’s meeting featured testimony from more than two dozen speakers — some of whom got in line just after 4 a.m. to secure a speaking slot during an hourlong comment period,” Nolan reported.

The chambers was packed and the board was more than 9½ hours into its quarterly meeting in Henrico County before a vote was taken.

Unsurprisingly pro-abortion Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who greased the skids with appointments to the board, an agreeably minded attorney general, and a new compliant Health Commissioner, lauded the vote.

“Today’s vote is an enormous step forward in the fight to get extreme politics out of decisions that should be between women and their doctors,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

Ditto for Attorney General Mark R. Herring, also a Democrat, who said “Today was a good day for Virginia women whose reproductive rights have been attacked too often in recent years.”

Herring gave the board cover with a legal opinion issued last May “that determined the board did not have the authority to apply the design-and-construction section of the regulations to facilities built before the rules took effect,” according to Nolan.

As NRL News Today reported previously, while running for governor, McAuliffe made no bones about his intentions. He was determined to change the regulations which were passed in light of a 2011 law that required abortion clinics be treated like outpatient surgical centers, if they provide five or more first-trimester abortions a month. The regulations addressed such issues as building standards, staff training, sanitation, and equipment standards.

Besides making new appointments to the board of health, McAuliffe told his Health Commissioner Marissa Levine to review on an “accelerate basis“ the required periodic review of the regulations.

Surprise, surprise, “Levine concluded the current regulations regarding construction needed revision, which led to VDH [Virginia Department of Health] formulating revised rules,” Nolan reported.

And to make sure the regulations were rendered totally ineffective, Levine

also approved waivers for 13 of the state’s 18 licensed clinics, exempting them from the obligation to comply with building regulations. The remaining clinics had already made renovations to comply with the existing regulations, which governed things like the size of parking lots, covered entryways and the width of hallways.

Nolan included a lengthy excerpt from the testimony of House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who said

that the political debate “does not measure up to the gravity and seriousness of the real issue: the value and sanctity and preciousness of human life.”

Cox said the board was circumventing the “intent and will of the General Assembly” that passed the law in 2011.

He said amending the regulations would make “abortion more dangerous for whom it is absolutely necessary” and “open the door” for abortion providers in Virginia to exhibit conduct depicted in a recent series of undercover videos at Planned Parenthood clinics out of state discussing the research and handling of fetal body parts.

Cox and other Republican legislative leaders have called on McAuliffe to investigate in Virginia, where Planned Parenthood operates five clinics, but the governor said there has been no evidence or complaint of similar practices in Virginia.

As noted at the beginning, there are many, many interim steps yet to be taken. According to Nolan, “Health Department officials said the regulatory process to incorporate the amendments approved Thursday could take 18 to 24 months, similar to the time it took for the original clinic regulations enacted four years ago to become final.”

Nolan ended his story with the observation

Given the political dimension and division that the issue has brought to the board since 2011, the future course of the regulations may well depend on who wins the next election for governor in 2017.

What Levine said earlier in the day pertaining to Thursday’s revisions might well apply to the issue in general: “We are nowhere near being done with this.”