Virginia OKs Regulations That Could Shut Abortion Businesses

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 15, 2011   |   5:01PM   |   Richmond, VA

The state board of health in Virginia today approved new regulations on abortion facilities that could shut them down if they can’t follow the health and safety standards to protect women.

Leading pro-abortion groups packed a hearing today before the vote decrying the health and safety regulation saying it could force some abortion facilities that put women’s health at risk to close.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill earlier this year that pro-abortion organizations 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 gave the state’s Board of Health 280 days to write new rules for abortion businesses.

The regulations include licensing and unannounced inspections of abortion centers.  They also require standards regarding medical personnel like requiring that the doctor remain on premises until a woman is actually ready to be discharged, improved sanitary conditions, and emergency equipment for cardiac arrest, seizure, respiratory distress and other critical medical situations.  Abortion centers would also have to be built, or improved within two years, to standards similar to ambulatory surgical facilities.

Today, the State Board of Health voted to keep the regulations in place — with the 15-member board voting 12-1 to keep them. All nine of McDonnell’s appointees to the board voted for the regulations, but three put on the board by pro-abortion former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, voted for them as well.

Consumer member James H. Edmondson Jr., appointed by Kaine, was the only member voting no and two members of the board did not attend today’s hearing and vote.

Planned Parenthood, the biggest abortion business in the United States, complained about the vote in a statement, saying, “Today’s vote is a direct result of sweeping anti-choice victories in recent elections.  Anti-choice “dream team” Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli worked with the anti-choice majorities in the House and Senate to direct the Board of Health to issue these regulations.”

But the Family Foundation applauded the vote: “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.  They have suggested that most of their clinics will close instead of meeting the standards passed today.”

During the proceedings, a representative of the Board said that they had received over 1100 emails concerning the regulations, 646 in favor.

Chris Freund of the pro-life group talked about his experience testifying: “The public comment period was at times heated.  Each person was given two minutes to make their point, and most held to that time.  One opponent to the regulations, someone who regularly testifies against any and all pro-life legislation when the General Assembly is in session, refused to stop when her time was up, going to the point where the chairman of the Board even pounded his table with a gavel in an attempt to get her to follow the rules. I testified about the lack of oversight that allowed Dr. Steven Brigham to own clinics in Virginia when he doesn’t have a license to practice medicine in Virginia and is under investigation in multiple states for putting women’s lives at risk.  As I left the podium a woman in the audience stood and began shouting at me.  Later, she shouted at a representative of the Attorney General’s office who was giving advice to the Board, and was threatened with being removed from the meeting.  When the vote concluded, another individual who had testified against the regulations began cursing at the Board and had to be escorted from the room by law enforcement.”

Now that the board has adopted the rules, the regulations now go to the Attorney General, Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Department of Planning and Budget and Governor for final review.  Once that is complete, the regulations are scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2012.  The regulations will be effective for one year, with the Governor having the option to extend them an additional six months.  The process of creating permanent regulations will begin when these emergency regulations go into effect.

Specifically, the new rules say “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  clearly at  stake.”

However, a collection of pro-abortion groups have been steadfastly opposing the regulations and calling on their members to tell the state officials to not adopt them. NARAL’s Virginia affiliate worked overtime to pack the meeting and turn out calls and emails to members of the board.

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.

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.

ACTION: Contact the Virginia Board of health at to thank them for supporting the abortion facility regulations.