By Dana Carlson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The Virginia Board of Health voted Friday to require abortion clinics to meet hospital building-code standards – rules that abortion rights activists said would force many of the state’s 20 clinics to close.
Abortion rights advocates responded to the board’s 11-2 vote by singing and waving signs. Security guards escorted the protesters, including Jeff Winder of the group Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, out of the meeting room at Perimeter Center in Henrico County.
“This is a sham,” Winder earlier told the board. “We pretend we are participating in a democratic process. You have caved in to the right-wing agenda of Ken Cuccinelli.”
Last summer, Cuccinelli, the state attorney general and the Republican nominee for governor, told the Board of Health not to exempt existing abortion clinics from the regulations approved in 2011 by the General Assembly. Among other things, the rules require renovations, such as wider hallways and doorways, that clinics say would be prohibitively expensive.
The Virginia Society for Human Life, an anti-abortion group, applauded Friday’s decision by the Board of Health to classify facilities performing five or more first-trimester abortions per month as hospitals.
“These reasonable regulations will begin to rein in reckless abortionists in Virginia,” Olivia Gans Turner, the society’s president, said in a statement. But she said the rules do not go far enough to “protect the unborn children who lives are taken during every abortion.”
Abortion rights advocates like Molly Vick said the rules were aimed at stopping abortions – not ensuring safe conditions at abortion clinics. Vick urged the Board of Health to exempt existing clinics from the costly structural modifications, as the state has done in regulating other health facilities.
“Please understand you are setting precedents,” Vick said. “We cannot have selective application of the law. When hospitals and nursing homes were regulated, new and existing were separated and old facilities were grandfathered in.”
Eileen Davis, a nurse practitioner, also urged the board not to be “capricious” in singling out abortion providers. She said the rules should be applied equally to facilities to provide liposuction, dental surgery and colonoscopies.
“I want to see the same care in any other outpatient facility,” Davis said.
Elizabeth Musselman, a physician, agreed: “You can’t regulate some businesses out of business because you don’t agree with them. That’s not fair and reasonable.”
On the other side of the debate, abortion opponents said the new rules would protect women having abortions.
“It’s not about pro-life or pro-choice; it’s about safety,” said Sandy Adams, a mother of six, grandmother of five and nurse of 24 years. “If my daughter chose to have an abortion, I would want her to go to a safe facility.”
Hours after the board’s board, Cuccinelli certified that the regulation complied with the law. The rules now must be approved by the state Department of Planning and Budget, Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Democrats issued a statement condemning Friday’s decision.
“Today the Board of Health succumbed to Ken Cuccinelli and his extreme allies’ efforts to bully through an open assault on the health of women across this commonwealth,” said state Delegate Charniele Herring of Alexandria, who chairs the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.