Abor­tion ad­vo­cates say Va. clinic rules are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFIN­SKI

Abor­tion sup­port­ers say re­cently re­leased draft reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing abor­tion clin­ics in Vir­ginia would be the most strin­gent such mea­sures in the coun­try and are part of a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated plot to un­der­mine the rights of women to ac­cess abor­tions.

The Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Health on Aug. 26 is­sued the highly an­tic­i­pated rules after a bill passed dur­ing last year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion called on the Board of Health to develop reg­u­la­tions that would re­quire fa­cil­i­ties that per­form five or more first-trimester abor­tions per month to meet the same stan­dards for staffing, se­cu­rity, con­struc­tion and main­te­nance as hos­pi­tals.

“We’re dis­ap­pointed the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Health ap­par­ently has ig­nored sound science and drafted reg­u­la­tions de­signed to limit ac­cess to safe, le­gal abor­tion ser­vices,” said Jes­sica Honke, pub­lic pol­icy di­rec­tor for Planned Par­ent­hood Ad­vo­cates of Vir­ginia. “We be­lieve they go be­yond any ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tions seen in other states.”

Repub­li­cans who sup­ported the bill say the main is­sue is en­sur­ing the health of women who seek abor­tions at fa­cil­i­ties that cur­rently are reg­u­lated in the state as out-pa­tient clin­ics, such as cos­metic-and oral-surgery cen­ters.

“Fewer will be in­jured,” said Del­e­gate Robert G. Mar­shall, Prince Wil­liam Repub­li­can and bill sup­porter. “If the abor­tion­re­form peo­ple sim­ply want to make abor­tion safe, they should have no op­po­si­tion to these reg­u­la­tions. The fact that they op­pose them is in­dica­tive of an­other mo­tive.”

Op­po­nents of the mea­sure have es­ti­mated that the new rules could force up to 17 of the state’s 21 abor­tion clin­ics to close.

Abor­tions that oc­cur after the first trimester must be performed in hos­pi­tals in Vir­ginia.

The reg­u­la­tions re­quire abor­tion fa­cil­i­ties to meet cer­tain build­ing re­quire­ments based on the “2010 Guide­lines for De­sign and Con­struc­tion of Health Care Fa­cil­i­ties of the Fa­cil­i­ties Guide­line In­sti­tute,” which, for ex­am­ple, dic­tate the size of op­er­at­ing room and spec­ify other re­quire­ments re­gard­ing man­age­ment and record-keep­ing.

Ms. Honke said that the rules would re­quire women’s health cen­ters to meet ex­ten­sive build­ing guide­lines in­tended more for brand-new build­ings rather than ex­ist­ing struc­tures.

“It could force sub­stan­tial ar­chi­tec­tural changes to women’s health cen­ters [and] threaten the abil­ity of safe, le­gal first­trimester abor­tions in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions through­out the state,” she said.

The pro­posed reg­u­la­tions had to be pub­lished within 280 days of Gov. Bob McDon­nell’s sign­ing the bill in or­der to com­ply with the en­acted law and are treated as “emer­gency reg­u­la­tions” not sub­ject to the nor­mal pub­lic com­ment and re­view process, which can take up­ward of two years or longer.

Of the 14 mem­bers on the cur­rent Board of Health, eight were ap­pointed by Mr. McDon­nell, a Repub­li­can; the other six were ap­pointed or reap­pointed by his pre­de­ces­sor, Demo­crat Tim Kaine. One seat is vacant

Mr. Kaine, a Catholic, also waded into the fray, say­ing that abor­tion is an important moral is­sue, and that a moral dis­cus­sion would be war­ranted, “but we shouldn’t try to crim­i­nal­ize the de­ci­sions of women or their health care providers,” he said Aug. 26 on WAMU-FM’s “The Pol­i­tics Hour.”

“I know about this ef­fort,” Mr. Kaine said. “There was this ef­fort un­der way when I was gover­nor, but the pro­po­nents of it are ad­mit­tedly try­ing to over­turn Roe v. Wade by other means to make it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for a woman to make that choice. I op­pose it, I think they ought to just be hon­est about their in­ten­tions.”

The con­ser­va­tive Family Foun­da­tion, which has for years lobbied for tighter re­stric­tions on clin­ics that per­form abor­tions in the state, de­clined to com­ment un­til it had time to re­view the reg­u­la­tions in the next cou­ple of days.

“Once we have an­a­lyzed what has been pro­posed, we will de­ter­mine what our next steps will be,” said Chris Fre­und, a spokesman for the group. “Should we find the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions ad­e­quately meet the health and safety stan­dards we be­lieve are nec­es­sary, we will urge Vir­gini­ans to con­tact the Board of Health and en­cour­age adop­tion of the reg­u­la­tions.”

As­sum­ing that the Board of Health adopts the reg­u­la­tions at its Sept. 15 meet­ing, the next step is ex­ec­u­tive branch re­view, which would pass through the of­fices of the state at­tor­ney gen­eral, the Depart­ment of Plan­ning and Bud­get, the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, and the gover­nor’s of­fice, said Joe Hil­bert, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment and reg­u­la­tory af­fairs for the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Health.

Tem­po­rary reg­u­la­tions would be in place for 12 months while per­ma­nent rules are drafted, though Mr. McDon­nell has the au­thor­ity to ex­tend them up to an ad­di­tional six months.

Op­po­nents of the law have lamented the lack of op­por­tu­nity for pub­lic com­ment. Be­cause of the ac­cel­er­ated time frame, the pub­lic of­fi­cially will have only one op­por­tu­nity to com­ment, at the board’s Sept. 15 meet­ing.

The pub­lic, how­ever, will be given in­struc­tions on how to sub­mit com­ments to the board in ad­vance of the meet­ing, Mr. Hil­bert said.

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