National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Va. Board of Health votes to lift some clinic restrictions

The Virginia Board of Health on Monday voted to lift requirements mandating that abortion clinics in the state meet onerous building standards, ruling that the requirements imposed an undue burden on abortion providers, Reuters reports (Simpson, Reuters, 10/24).

Background

The regulations, passed under former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), specify various building standards, including exam room size, hallway width and ceiling height. The rules were written to specifically apply to health centers that provide abortion services.

During the regulatory process to implement the rules, the Virginia Board of Health initially voted to grandfather in pre-existing clinics so they would not be subject to the new design and construction standards. However, the state Board of Health reversed its decision after then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) in an opinion told the board that the rules should apply to pre-existing facilities.

The rules went into effect in June 2013. In addition to the design and construction regulations, the rules also created new requirements for inspections, recordkeeping and medical procedures for health centers that provide abortion services.

According to abortion-rights advocates, the rules have resulted in the closure of two Virginia clinics and imposed unnecessary costs on abortion providers with the aim of shuttering more clinics. In addition, one clinic stopped providing abortion services after the passage of the initial rules. Of the 18 clinics operating in the state in June 2015, five have completed construction to be in compliance with the regulations. Meanwhile, 13 facilities were granted exemptions to have more time to be in compliance with the regulations.

Last year, the state Board of Health voted to amend the rules so that existing clinics would not be required to comply. Further, the rules would no longer require that clinics meet stringent building code standards or that they have transfer agreements with nearby hospitals. However, under the amended rules, clinics built in the future would have had to meet some of the building requirements (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/8).

Latest developments

On Monday, the state Board of Health in an 11-4 vote decided to lift the building regulations entirely, meaning they will not apply to existing or future clinics. According to the board, the regulations were unconstitutional under Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt (Vozzella, Washington Post, 10/24).

Specifically, the vote lifts requirements mandating that clinics providing at least five abortions per month meet the building standards of ambulatory surgical centers rather than the outpatient building standards they currently meet (Reuters, 10/24). However, the Post reports that clinics in the state will still have to meet other regulations, including additional reporting mandates and inspections.

The state attorney general and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) must review the changes before the rules are finalized. They will also be posted for a final public comment period.

Comments

McAuliffe praised the vote. "I want to thank the Virginia Board of Health for working to repeal onerous regulations designed solely to reduce or outright remove access to essential reproductive health services for women across the Commonwealth," McAuliffe said, adding, "This vote demonstrates to the rest of the United States and the world that Virginia is a community where people can live, find employment, and start a family without politicians interfering with decisions that should be made by women and their doctors."

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia Education Fund, also lauded the board's decision. "Today the women of Virginia can take a deep breath knowing that for now they will continue to have access to safe and legal abortion," Scholl said. She continued, "Politicians, not doctors, pushed these sham restrictions to cut off women's ability to access comprehensive reproductive health-care services" (Washington Post, 10/24).