Virginia Board of Health adopts new regulations on women’s health centers

state-capitol2The Virginia Board of Health today approved permanent regulations that impose heavy burdens on women’s healthcare centers that provide safe, legal first-trimester abortion, along with vital reproductive health care and family planning services.

Contrary to the opinion of a panel of experts convened by the Board early in the regulatory process, the Board refused to “grandfather in” existing women’s healthcare centers, so that many of them will have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on medically unnecessary architectural renovations.

“These burdensome construction requirements have no relation to the safety of the services that women’s health centers provide,” said Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia. “Clearly, the aim here is not to protect women’s health but to shut down clinics that provide essential health services, including abortion.”

The decision not to grandfather existing facilities is a reversal from regulations the Board of Health initially proposed on June 15, 2012, which included a grandfather provision.   Those proposed regulations were blocked when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli refused to “certify” the Board’s legal authority to enact them.

“The attorney general’s hijacking of the regulatory process is outrageous,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “Nothing in Virginia law allows the attorney general to exercise veto power over an agency’s proposed regulations, but that is exactly what happened here.  We are disappointed that the Board of Health decided to cave in to pressure from the Attorney General, rather than stand up for women’s health.”

Cuccinelli had argued that the “grandfather” provision violated a Virginia statute that requires hospital regulations to be consistent with the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities. “The Attorney General’s argument is simply wrong,” said Glenberg. “The Guidelines themselves specify that they are intended to apply to new construction, not existing facilities. The Board of Health regulations for every other kind of health care facility – such as nursing and hospice facilities – all grandfather in existing buildings. Only abortion providers are singled out for these massive renovation requirements.”

The regulations are not supported by Virginia residents or the Virginia medical community.  Of the final public comments submitted on the official Virginia Townhall website, 81 percent (4,796) were expressions of opposition to the regulations, while only 19 percent (1,125) expressed approval. Public comments match wider public opinion. The majority of Virginians (58%) oppose the proposed new regulations of women’s health care centers, according to a new public opinion survey (pdf) released by the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health on March 20.

Virginia’s doctors and medical experts agree: nearly 200 doctors have publicly denounced the regulations in a September 2012 independently organized and funded public letter and Richmond Times-Dispatch advertisement.

“We are continuing to explore ways to combat these burdensome new regulations,” said Glenberg. “All options are on the table.”

At today’s meeting, the Board of Health voted 11-2 to approve the regulations without a grandfather clause. Jim Edmondson made two motions, one to postpone a vote on a grandfather clause and the second to include a grandfather clause, but both were voted down.


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