Pro-life groups herald the Virginia Board of Health for passing provisional regulations Thursday forcing the state's more than 20 abortion clinics to abide by the same strict standards as hospitals. They say the new regulations will protect against unlicensed abortion doctors.
After listening to hours of debate, the board voted 12-1 to pass regulations requiring abortion clinics performing at least five first-trimester abortions a month to adhere to architectural standards, annual licensing protocols, and inspections.
Victoria Cobb, president for pro-life group The Family Foundation, was present at the meeting, which she said lasted for about four hours. Cobb described the ordeal as a contentious one. The testimony rose to the level of shouting at times and even cursing. At least one person had to be removed from the meeting.
Yet, she is excited about the outcome of the meeting. "After over two decades of avoiding oversight, Virginia's abortion centers now face the choice of either spending their profits on meeting standards or no longer doing abortions at their facilities," Cobb said.
In February, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling approved legislation mandating that abortion clinics performing five or more first-trimester abortions a month be regulated. The legislation gave the state Board of Health 280 days (roughly nine months) from the law's enactment to write and approve new rules for the clinics to abide by.
The guidelines approved Thursday will require clinics to renovate their facilities to mirror that of hospital surgical centers by 2012. Clinics will have to have larger operating rooms. They will also be subjected to regular government inspections.
Cobb said these regulations will prevent unlicensed abortion doctors like Steven Brigham from owning clinics in Virginia.
Brigham had a chain of 15 clinics in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, despite having his medical license revoked, relinquished or temporarily suspended in five states
An investigation into his New Jersey clinic in 2000 uncovered unsanitary conditions, including spilled blood and urine.
The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women's Health lamented the board's decision in a statement, saying the regulations will ultimately to shut clinics down and limit "access to abortion care as well as life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, and the wide range of preventive care provided at women's reproductive health centers."
However, Cobb says, "I pointed out in my testimony that the abortion industry can continue offering any other medical service they claim to do regardless of today's vote. They just have to decide whether or not they will spend their profits on the health and safety standards now required to also do abortions."
The regulations passed Thursday also allow for temporary waivers and permit licensure of clinics that pledge to retrofit their facilities within two years, according the Virginian Pilot.
The new rules will be reviewed by the state Attorney General's office and McDonnell's administration before they go into effect January 1, 2012.