June 18, 2012 — The Virginia Board of Health on Friday voted 7-4 to exempt existing facilities from regulations requiring abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as newly constructed hospitals, the AP/WSLS reports. New clinics would still have to meet the standards (O'Dell, AP/WSLS, 6/15). The board rejected a request for a revote with a 6-5 vote (Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/16). After making some minor revisions, it approved the regulations for new clinics on a 8-3 vote.
"We're ecstatic," Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said. She added, "We didn't walk into this meeting today thinking we could make an amendment so sweeping" (AP/Staunton News Leader, 6/15).
The requirements are among several regulations being implemented under a law Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed in January. The rules specify several building standards -- such as the size of exam rooms, widths of hallways and ceiling heights -- and create new requirements for inspections, record-keeping and medical procedures (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/14).
The new rules were written to specifically apply to health centers that provide abortion services and do not apply to other medical facilities that offer invasive procedures, such as colonoscopies, plastic surgery and oral surgery, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Critics have said the regulations could force many of the state's 20 abortion providers to close. They also have argued that the rules would make Virginia one of the most expensive places in the U.S. for women to obtain abortion care (Nolan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/15).
However, supporters of the regulations said they are necessary to protect women's safety. Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, issued a statement affirming the group's support for the "reasonable safety regulations for abortion centers."
Before Friday's vote, nearly 300 protesters gathered outside the building to oppose the new rules. Several opponents also addressed the board (Patterson, WTVR, 6/15).
The regulations now go to McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) for review, followed by a two-month public comment period, before the board can issue a final vote, according to the AP/Staunton News Leader.
Keene said she hopes the board will "stick to its guns" (AP/Staunton News Leader, 6/15).
McDonnell's office did not state an immediate position on the regulations. Jeff Caldwell, McDonnell's spokesperson, said in an email that the "Governor will review the final regulations" (Vozzella/Kumar, Washington Post, 6/15).
A lawyer on Cuccinelli's staff told the board that its decision conflicts with state law and that his office is unlikely to certify the amended regulations (Walker, Virginian-Pilot, 6/16).