Virginia Health Board Weakens Accountability for Abortion Clinics

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 15, 2012   |   7:23PM   |   Richmond, VA

The Virginia Board of Health upset pro-life advocates today by weakening new regulations the Virginia government put in place that could shut down abortion clinics if they can’t follow the health and safety standards to protect women.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill in 2011 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, after nine hours of debate and hundreds of people on both sides of the abortion divide protesting, voted 7-4 to remove a requirement that required abortion clinics to be held to the same standards as hospitals and legitimate medical centers — making it so only new abortion clinics must meet those standards.

Then, after some more debate, the board voted on the measure again — with one member changing and the result of the vote 6-5.

Victoria Cobb, President of the Family Foundation issued a statement responding to the vote:

“We continue to support these reasonable safety regulations for abortion centers which have for too long operated in a veil of secrecy, outside the appropriate level of oversight considering the invasive nature of abortion.  The vocal abortion industry defenders are not pursuing the best interest of the majority of women.”

There is a 60-day public comment period and then the regulations will eventually head back to the Board of Health for final review before moving to the governor for final approval.

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

“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.”

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.”

In 2010, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is pro-life, said in an opinionthat 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 with your opinion about their vote.