A 'back door' abortion ban? Virginia health board approves new regulations

Photo: AP/Rogelio V. Solis
Photo: AP/Rogelio V. Solis

The Virginia Board of Health voted Friday for new abortion clinic regulations, a move that could force clinics in the state to either undertake costly renovations or shut down.

The 11-2 vote follows two years of back-and-forth, as detailed by The Washington Post, between the health board, Gov. Bob McDonnell, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The state General Assembly voted for the legislation in 2011. The rules now go to McDonnell and Cuccinelli, both Republicans, for a final review.

Under these regulations, abortion clinics will have to follow the same building codes as surgical centers, mandating that they meet specific standards for things like the width of hallways and doorways. If the locations can’t spend the money to renovate and adhere to these new rules, they will be forced to close.

“What they did was rubber stamp these regulations,” NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Deputy Director Caroline O’Shea told msnbc.com. “They were intent on the ultimate goal of restricting safe, legal abortion access in Virginia.”

There are 20 clinics in the state with abortion licenses. “Currently none of them meet these requirements,” said O’Shea, adding that the clinics weren’t built with these regulations in mind. She called it “a back door ban” as more than a dozen of those clinics are likely to have significant trouble meeting the guidelines within two years and at least half are facing closure.

“These regulations are needed no matter what type of procedure is going on,” Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, told msnbc.com. She called the health board’s vote “a compassionate decision. Women deserve safety whenever they go into a place where they are undergoing a serious medical procedure... We’ve been inundated with the horror stories of this lack of oversight. The abortion industry cannot be relied on to regulate itself.”

Many doctors consider abortions in the first trimester to be a kind of outpatient procedure. In Virginia, second-term abortions already have to be performed in hospitals. “These new requirements don’t have any bearing on the safety of providing first trimester abortion care,” said O’Shea.

Friday’s vote in Virginia is just one of many recent state attempts to limit abortion access. A similar measure is working its way through the Texas Senate.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday, a majority of respondents wanted abortion to be illegal, a reversal of the same poll taken in January. In the survey, 52% of respondents said abortion should be illegal with or without exceptions, while 45% said it should be legal either “always” or “most of the time.”