Virginia Moves Forward With Governor’s Directive to Review Abortion Clinic Regulations

The state's health board held a public meeting addressing the status of the review process Thursday, a process that is expected to take months to complete and possibly years to implement.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe WikiMedia Commons

The Virginia health board is moving forward with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s directive to review the regulations governing clinics that provide abortion services. The board held a public meeting addressing the status of the review process Thursday, a process that is expected to take months to complete and possibly years to implement.

The directive requests that the Virginia Board of Health review policies that instituted “unprecedented construction requirements.” McAuliffe called for the regulations, which are set to take effect in June, to be suspended during the review process. The review is to be completed by no later than October 1.

The regulations are modeled after similar targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, which have forced clinics to close around the country. They require clinics that provide abortion care in the state to adhere to the same regulations as hospitals, even though legal abortion is overwhelmingly safe, with fewer than 1 percent of patients experiencing a major complication.

In Virginia, five of the state’s 23 clinics have been forced to close because of the regulations. A lawsuit by Falls Church Healthcare Center challenging the regulations is currently pending.

During the public meeting both those in favor of the regulations and those opposed to them made their voices heard.

Shelly Abrams, who works at Capital Women’s Health Clinic in Richmond, said that the regulations do nothing but “create paperwork nightmares” for reproductive health-care clinics. “Let’s take out the architectural [rules] we now know would not have helped with a single citation. Let’s get it right this time,” said Abrams.

Anti-choice activist Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, spoke in favor of the regulations. Cobb cited an alleged high complication rate at one clinic, Virginia Women’s Wellness, as justification for the regulation. The Family Foundation recently called on the state to close the clinic.

In response to the allegations, clinic spokesperson Bridget Wilson challenged the accuracy of the inspection reports and said in a statement that the clinic has “a long track record of delivering kind, caring, compassionate, and safe medical care to the women of Virginia.”

Once the review is complete, the state’s interim health commissioner, Marissa Levine, will determine which rules should be retained, amended, or repealed. Her decision is expected in December, and the board will likely take up the issue next year.