The Virginia Board of Health voted Thursday 12-1 to adopt unnecessary and punitive regulations of first-trimester abortion clinics requiring architectural renovations to change clinics into hospitals and change government oversight. Under the regulations, state authorities can enter a clinic to inspect at any time without notice to examine patient medical records, gather a list of current patients, and interview patients on site potentially violating both patient and provider privacy. In total, these regulations on first-trimester abortion providers are the most extreme seen to date in the nation.
In February 2011, the Republican dominated Virginia State Legislature passed and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law SB 924 requiring first-trimester abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals. The state already requires abortions after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to be performed in a general hospital. If unchallenged in the courts, these regulations will close most if not all abortion facilities in the state.
A packed boardroom of over 100 concerned advocates witnessed the vote on abortion regulations after a heated 90 minute period of public comment. Thirty-two individuals gave comments to the Virginia Board of Health, pro-choice advocates outnumbering regulation supporters 2 to 1.
Board member James Edmondson Jr. cast the single vote against enacting the punitive regulations after three hours of battling for a series of amendments proposed to weaken the heavy-handed regulations. One amendment would have exempted clinics performing only medical abortions by prescribing the pill Mifepristone to patients and others were intended to protect patients’ privacy.
Staff member of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office advised the Board after the introduction of each of Edmondson’s amendments, repeatedly saying the changes exceeded the authority of the Board. Feminist Majority Political Associate Corrina Beall who was at the hearing said, “Attorney General Cuccinelli’s staff intimidated the Board and delivered lob-sided votes against any of the amendments.”
Edmondson told reporters after the vote, “I think access will wind up being at risk in many parts of the state because of this.” Edmondson said he believes restricting access to abortion is the primary aim of the General Assembly-mandated regulations.