Republicans Take New Tact to Curtail Legal Abortion in Virginia

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The Virginia Board of Health passed what were labeled “emergency” regulations Sept. 15 that abortion rights advocates say will effectively shut down the 22 abortion providers in the state.

The rules approved by 12 of the 15 board members will force the clinics to comply with state regulations governing hospitals, if five or more first trimester abortions are performed monthly. The rules also impose architectural design standards that pro-choice advocates say are too costly–and needlessly stringent– for most clinics to meet.

Under the new rules, clinics must have five-foot-wide hallways, eight-foot wide areas outside procedure rooms, specific numbers of toilets, types of sinks and hospital-like air circulation and electrical wiring. The clinics will also have to provide a parking spot for every bed.

The only dissenting vote came from James Edmondson Jr., an appointee of former Gov. Tim Kaine (D). Edmondson tried unsuccessfully to soften what are likely to be the toughest rules in the nation for abortion clinics. “I think access (for abortion patients) will wind up being at risk in many parts of the state because of this, and that's too bad.”

The new rules won’t make the procedures safer, but will impose costs that will force the clinics to shut down, says Jill Abbey, director of the Richmond Medical Center for Women. “The regulation is unprovoked and over-reaching. They're purely and simply for closing clinics. They're doing a disservice to the women of Virginia,” Abbey told dailypress.com.

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Erin Zabel, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southern Virginia agrees. “There's no medical basis for the regulations,” she said. “First-trimester procedures have virtually no complications. Eye surgeries and dermatology procedures use higher levels of sedation. It's clear that the intent is to put them out of business. Most work out of rented doctor's offices.”

Compliance will be monitored by state officials who, the rules mandate, must have access to any licensed abortion facility and can make unannounced inspection visits.

If approved by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), the rules are to go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.