POLITICS

Virginia abortion providers coping with new rules

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Politics,Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Nearly all of Virginia's major abortion providers expect to remain open despite new state regulations that require them to make expensive and tedious changes -- a far cry from the doomsday scenario abortion-rights advocates predicted when the regulations passed last year.

Twenty of the 23 facilities affected by the new rules have already informed the state that they meet those new standards or would make the necessary changes to comply, according to license applications The Washington Examiner obtained through an open-records request.

Of the other three that didn't apply for a license, one already stopped providing abortions and two others didn't have to meet the new standards because they plan to perform fewer than five first-trimester abortions a month.

The new rules force abortion providers to meet many of the more stringent standards set for hospitals by 2014, including larger hallways and operating rooms, bigger parking lots and specific heating and cooling controls. When the state Board of Health handed down the regulations last year, abortion-rights advocates denounced them as unduly burdensome and predicted that most, if not all, of the providers would be forced to close.

"It wasn't a veiled threat at all," said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. "All of these clinics are trying to do what they can to meet these regulations, but we don't know what's going to happen yet."

Four of the 20 clinics mentioned the possibility of closing in their state applications but indicated that it would be a last resort. Many had spoken with architects about renovating their existing facilities. Others, like the Planned Parenthood in Falls Church and Nova Women's Healthcare in Fairfax, are considering moving to a larger facility or building a new one.

Several clinics already met the new standards. Planned Parenthood in Virginia Beach only needed to install privacy curtains in the recovery room to meet the stricter rules.

"We didn't get anything that said, 'This was the end for us,' " said Erik Bodin, of the state Health Department's Office of Licensure and Certification.

The health department will now conduct on-site inspections and review the compliance plans.

"It's always been a bit odd that before standards were even passed, NARAL was announcing how many clinics were going to close," said Victoria Cobb, executive director of The Family Foundation, a pro-life group. "We never felt that was accurate."

Still, complying with the law will mean expensive renovations, construction or moves, costing clinics $150,000 to $3 million each, Keene said. And there's no guarantee the state will accept their plans.

"These are difficult economic times," said Laura Meyers, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington. "To put more onerous regulations on health care providers that are not necessary seems very counterproductive."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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