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New legislation causes controversy
The Virginia Board of Health approved emergency temporary abortion clinic regulations on a 12-1 vote Thursday, Sept. 15, in response to legislation passed earlier this year by the General Assembly. These stringent regulations, if approved by all relevant parties involved in the executive branch review process, will be in place by Dec. 31 and stay in effect while the board develops long-term regulations for Virginia.
“The approval of the regulations by the Virginia Board of Health sends a clear and compelling message that any and all abortion clinics in Virginia must abide by these minimum standards,” Delegate T. Scott Garrett said.
The legislation deals with a myriad of issues involving the proper method and requirements for the issuance of a license, as well as the revocation, renewal and posting of that license. These issues range from the management of abortion clinics, to their policies and procedures, staff, health standards and infection prevention. The legislation allows for the right of entry for any designated Virginia Department of Health Employee and requires that the clinics submit to unannounced on-site inspections that will happen periodically “but not less often than biennially,” according to the Emergency Text for the Regulations for Licensure of Abortion Facilities found on Virginia.gov.
“The intent of this regulatory action is to promote and assure the safety of patients who receive first trimester abortion services,” states the Emergency Regulation and Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA) Agency Background Document. “SB924 mandates that the regulatory action include minimum standards for facilities performing five or more first trimester abortions per month. The standards are required to include those for construction and maintenance; operation, staffing and equipping; qualifications and training of staff; and infection prevention, disaster preparedness and facility security.”
According to Garrett, the General Assembly has always been concerned with the health of women, but it was clear that, until now, any efforts to legislate in this area would be blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The board of health had to come up with these emergency regulations within 280 days of the date that the governor signed the legislation that was passed this year by the General Assembly (SB924), according to Joe Hilbert, the director of Governmental and Regulatory Affairs with the Virginia Board of Health. Under state law, they are only effective for a maximum of 12 months, but Hilbert said that the Governor does have the authority to extend it for an additional six months.
“What we are going to be doing is developing permanent regulations to replace the emergency regulations when they expire,” Hilbert said.
As of Saturday, Sept. 24, the legislation had been approved by the Attorney General and was passed on for review by the Planning and Budget Department, according to Hilbert. After that, it will be reviewed by the secretary of Health and Human Resources and, finally, go to Gov. McDonnell.
“There is a prescribed process that all state agencies follow whenever they develop regulations and that process is governed by state law and the Government Executive Order 14,” Hilbert stated. “A component of that process if the executive branch review.”
Once the legislation is approved, no separate action will be necessary by Virginia localities, according to Garrett.
An article on the CBS 6 website said spectators who were opponents of the regulations, as well as those who were proponents, were present at the Thursday hearing. James Edmondson was the one board member who voted against the regulations and is quoted in an online article by CBS 6 as having said “that he believes the regulations as written would put some clinics out of business.”
Other sources have echoed that worry, stating that the regulations could force certain clinics in Virginia, as many as 22, to close, but Hilbert said he could not speculate on that at this time.
Regardless if these regulations shut down abortion clinics that do not meet them, Garrett said that “all Virginians should be in agreement that our medical facilities should meet basic minimum standards.”
“At the heart of this legislation is an effort on the part of the General Assembly to ensure the safety of women who may find themselves facing this difficult decision,” Garrett said. “As a medical professional, I understand that the abortion procedure has inherent medical risks. The situations in the state of New Jersey that were presented during committee hearings served as a clarion call to action. We do not want similar situations occurring in Virginia’s clinics.”