Virginia to reconsider rules for abortion clinics

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Photo - Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (Getty Images)
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (Getty Images)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

The Virginia Board of Health is poised to deliver a blow to abortion rights advocates Friday when it decides whether to apply contentious new regulations to existing abortion facilities.

The board in June passed new, stricter standards for the clinics that perform abortions, requiring some of them to meet the same code requirements as hospitals, including wider hallways, larger operating rooms and bigger parking lots. But the board then exempted all existing clinics from those new rules, roiling abortion opponents.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a pro-life Republican, refused to certify the new standards in July, saying the health board exceeded its authority by exempting the existing clinics. He has since pressed the board to reverse its decision. In a letter obtained by the Virginian-Pilot, a Norfolk newspaper, Cuccinelli's office threatened not to represent the health board in court should anyone legally challenge the new standards.

"It would be the responsibility of the board member to obtain and pay for his or her own legal representation," wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Allyson Tysinger.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a pro-life Republican, has advised the board to meet Cuccinelli's demand for a reversal.

There may be enough support on the health board to change its June ruling and apply the standards to existing facilities. The panel's membership has changed since June. McDonnell replaced several members whose terms expired, and others on the 15-member panel who missed the June meeting are expected to attend Friday's session.

But abortion rights groups are gearing up for a fight, presenting the health board with 17,000 petition signatures urging it to stand by its June decision and reject Cuccinelli's interpretation of the law.

Those organizations say the cost of meeting the new standards could put existing abortion providers out of business.

"Political agendas have no place in the doctor's office," said ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl.

The Family Foundation, a pro-life organization, this week released documents it obtained through an open records request that showed some clinics were cited in the past for health and safety violations.

Inspectors found blood and other bodily material frozen to the bottom of a freezer at a Norfolk facility, the documents show. Other violations ranged from the cleaning of medical utensils to bookkeeping infractions.

"Some of this is just horrific," said Family Foundation Executive Director Victoria Cobb.

Abortion rights advocates charged that the foundation was distorting the debate.

"Is it not a coincidence," the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women's Health said in a statement, "that this early data on inspections, which only tells a half story -- and a misleading one SEmD is released just two days before the Board of Health is to vote on the regulations once again."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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