The Virginia Board of Health has voted to adopt controversial regulations requiring abortion clinics to comply with new hospital construction standards, a move critics said was aimed at forcing them to close down.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch
, shouts of "shame, shame, shame on you" erupted from abortion-rights supporters Friday afternoon when the board voted 13-2 to support the regulations passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in June and pushed by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on the board.
Two state attorneys representing Cuccinelli attended the public meeting, seating themselves next to board chairman Bruce Edwards, the Times-Dispatch reported.
A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union and a University of Richmond law professor made a point of telling the board that Cuccinelli, now a Republican candidate for governor, had no authority to compel the board to change its own regulations on construction standards for clinics.
When it voted, the board was applauded by abortion opponents who turned out at the public meeting in support of the new regulations. The board allowed only one hour for both sides to make their cases before taking a lunch recess and then returning to vote.
Speakers opposed to abortion argued that "patient safety" was their main concern, citing recent inspections indicating "widespread violations of health and safety" in the state's 20 abortion clinics.
Victoria Cobb, president of the anti-abortion Family Foundation, said the violations "reveal that the industry has no credibility when it comes to what regulations are necessary and which are not."
Ruth Nicdao, another abortion opponent, told the board, "These regulations are the least women can have in place." She carried a sign that read, "Choice is a polite word for killing a baby.”
Abortion-rights supporters noted that the board had voted just last June to limit the new building regulations to new clinics and to "grandfather" in existing clinics in order to help them remain open. But the board was forced to reconsider that decision after Cuccinelli brought pressure on the panel to follow the law passed by the legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
According to the Times-Dispatch, speakers for the clinic argued that the size of hallways, parking lots, and awnings, as laid out in the regulations for hospitals, are not essential to patient safety at smaller clinics.
"No one here is opposed to oversight and to regulations,” Dr. Wendy Klein told the board. But she insisted the regulations were unreasonable and “insidiously designed” to limit access and force clinics to comply to shut their doors.
“You are now at risk of being part of the conspiracy to effectively outlaw abortion in Virginia, against the wishes of the women of this commonwealth, against the law of the land as set out by the Supreme Court, and against the mandate as members of this board,” added Shelley Abrams, director of a Virginia clinic.
“My clinic is now fully licensed. We have done absolutely everything you have asked us to do,” Abrams told the board. “The only thing we have not done is rebuild our entire facility.”
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