Protesters hold signs as they arrive for the start of a State Board of Health meeting in Richmond, Va., on June 15, 2012.
Steve Helber/AP

Virginia to review controversial abortion clinic restrictions

Virginia is ready to retreat for the war on women.

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday appointed five new members to the state Board of Health to review the potential damage done to women’s health access after the state ushered in a range of harsh restrictions on abortion clinics.

“This is not just a health issue – it’s an economic issue,” McAuliffe said Monday. “In order to grow and diversify our economy, Virginia needs to be open and welcoming to all, and we need to ensure that all Virginia women have access to the health care resources they need.”

In 2011, the Board of Health issued new regulations on abortion clinics, mandating that clinics must adhere to the same strict building codes as new hospitals. Opponents argued the extra red tape effectively provided a backdoor ban on abortion in requiring costly renovations on everything from the width of hallways to the number parking spaces available outside the clinic.

Initially, Virginia’s Board of Health agreed to grandfather in existing clinics, making the new regulations apply to only new locations. But the board later caved to political pressure, led by then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and reversed the exemption for existing clinics.

The changes were approved a year later by a Board of Health controlled by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, a staunch abortion opponent. Since then, five of Virginia’s 23 abortion clinics have been shuttered due in part to the extensive costs associated with dramatically changing the construction of the buildings, the Huffington Post reports. The law gave the remaining clinics until June to comply.

“I am concerned that the extreme and punitive regulations adopted last year jeopardize the ability of most women’s health centers to keep their doors open and place in jeopardy the health and reproductive rights of Virginia women,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe narrowly edged Cuccinelli in the state’s gubernatorial race last year. Women voters in the state accounted for a substantial contribution to his win – according to exit polls, McAuliffe garnered an eight-point advantage over his opponent among women.

The Democratic governor also unveiled a program for discounted drug pricing Monday, and with the help of the state’s four Planned Parenthood affiliates, he pledged to provide free HIV testing to more than 1,800 people by the end of the year.