Virginia Gov. McDonnell Signs Bill, Cracks Down on Abortion Centers

State   Steven Ertelt   Mar 28, 2011   |   3:51PM    Richmond, VA

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed a bill pro-life advocates supported that would crack down on abortion businesses in the state and ensure they are following better health and safety standards.

Abortion advocates strongly contested the legislation and mounted a campaign attempting to get McDonnell to veto the bill by claiming it would shut down as many as 17 of the 20 abortion businesses in the state. But pro-life advocates countered saying if they were shut down it was because they couldn’t meet basic health standards to ensure the safety of women and protect their health.

Abortion centers in Virginia have not been subject to strict regulations for more than 20 years. The new bill the legislature approved will make sure abortion clinics are regulated as hospitals instead of physician’s offices, a move that will protect women’s health, reduce abortions, and could cause problematic abortion centers to close. The legislation gives the state’s Board of Health 280 days to write new rules for abortion businesses, which will be completed September 1 and held open for public comment for two weeks before going back to McDonnell and others — who can make changes.

Specifically, the bill says “facilities in which five or more first-trimester abortions per month are performed” are now part to the category of “hospital” facilities and that would require abortion centers to abide by the same standards as legitimate outpatient surgical centers instead of only complying to the standards for doctors’ officers where surgeries are not performed.

The Virginia Society for Human Life had strongly supported the bill.

“The much needed regulations will provide greater protection from the dangers of unregulated and under investigated free standing abortion practitioners throughout Virginia,” VSHL president Olivia Gans told LifeNews. “Cases such as these clearly show why it is critical that regulations be placed on abortionists in the Commonwealth.  The lives and safety of women are  clearlyat  stake.”

The bill had a tumultuous time in the state legislature, as it has in the past thanks to Democrats controlling the committee process in the Senate. After a Democratic-controlled state Senate committee that traditionally kills pro-life bills defeated the abortion clinic regulations measure, Del. Kathy Byron, a Republican, amended SB 924, a Senate bill on health and safety regulations for hospitals. The amendment essentially attached the pro-life bill the Virginia state Senate Education and Health Committee killed earlier this month to the legislation.

Because of the change to the Senate bill, it went back to the state Senate for a concurrence vote.

After a long and passionate debate on the Senate floor, senators voted 20-20 and pro-life Lt. Governor Bill Bolling cast the tie-breaking vote to send the bill to Governor Bob McDonnell, who will sign the measure into law.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, strongly supported the legislation.

“After over two decades of hiding behind a veil of political secrecy, abortion centers in Virginia will now face greater scrutiny and better health standards,” she said.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council also praised passage of the legislation.

“If we cannot accept sub-standard care that would jeopardize women’s health in other areas, such as post-natal care, we cannot accept it from abortion clinics,” he said. “Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s practice is an example of what can happen in states where basic standards are not enforced by health authorities. Gosnell’s grisly practice of killing infants and tormenting women will stand as one of the most horrific discoveries in Pennsylvania state history. This millionaire doctor raked in $15,000 a day – more than enough money to afford clean equipment and a trained staff. But, like so much of the abortion industry, his business wasn’t about caring for women or vaccinating children. It was about profit.”

Last year, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is pro-life, said in an opinion that the state government can institute the regulations by executive order but McDonnell said he wanted the legislature to put the regulations in place. In his opinion, Cuccinelli provided legal guidance for the state Board of Health and said more limits can be placed on abortion businesses in Virginia when it comes to healthy and safety standards.

Noting that Roe v. Wade still allows virtually unlimited legal abortions, the attorney general said the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision allowing limits in other states makes it so Virginia limits would likely be seen as constitutional. The key is making abortion businesses meet the same standards as legitimate outpatient medical facilities and those limits could close some abortion centers that do not follow current state guidelines.

“I think that’s important and I’ll support that,” McDonnell said on Norfolk’s WNIS radio in January.

Under current law, abortion practitioners must be licensed by the state Board of Medicine, but abortion centers themselves are considered “physicians offices,” and don’t meet the same strict standards as surgical facilities doing legitimate medical procedures.

Virginia’s Department of Health had regulated abortion clinics until pro-abortion Chuck Robb became Governor and ended the practice.

Cuccinelli’s opinion is important because it gives the green light for the state legislature to pass bills putting abortion centers in the same category as ambulatory surgery centers and requires them to meet certain standards to protect women’s health. Failure to do so would see them close permanently or temporarily while deficiencies are corrected.