Virginia House Revives Bill Targeting Abortion Center Problems

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 22, 2011   |   2:37PM   |   Richmond, VA

The Virginia state House has revived legislation the state Senate killed that would target the problems at abortion centers and put more regulations in place that would hold them to higher health and safety limits.

Del. Kathy Byron, a Republican, on Monday put forward an amendment to 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 now goes back to the state Senate for a concurrence vote — but pro-life advocates have a better chance of getting the measure approved because the full Senate votes on the bill rather than just the members of the committee known for killing pro-life legislation.

Del. David Englin, a Republican from Arlington, tried to block the amendment but House Speaker William Howell ruled the amendment was germane to the bill because it dealt with the medical issues pertaining to hospitals in the Senate bill. Byron’s amendment was approved 63-34 by the Republican-controlled House and now goes to the Senate, where Democrats enjoy a slim 22-18 majority.

Specifically, Byron’s amendment adds “facilities in which five or more first-trimester abortions per month are performed” to the category of “hospital.” 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.

Abortion advocates complain the regulations will put some abortion centers out of business that can’t meet those health and safety standards.

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 pro-life Gov. Bob McDonnell says he wants 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.

“We should do everything possible to ensure that every woman’s life and health and their future pregnancies are protected by the Commonwealth of Virginia. To do otherwise is to shirk from government’s first responsibility,” Delegate Marshall explained. “The National Library of Medicine has hundreds and hundreds of peer review medical articles documenting the immediate dangers of first trimester legal abortion to women and subsequent pregnancies.”