The Virginia Board of Health voted 11-2 last month to finalize regulations requiring abortion centers in the state to adhere to the same health and architectural standards as new outpatient surgical centers.
Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell is expected to sign off on the regulations, which the state legislature originally passed in 2011. The finalization was delayed by a two-year process that saw the Board of Health reverse itself twice.
The decision arrived as gruesome testimony in the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell in the past few weeks drew attention to the issue of safety in abortion facilities. An Ohio center closed after inspectors discovered Gosnell-like violations. Operation Rescue president Troy Newman told The Washington Post he hoped the Gosnell case would raise “public awareness that abortion mills need to be regulated, inspected, licensed, at the very least like your local breakfast place.”
Abortion supporters have said that in Gosnell’s case, the problem was a failure to enforce Pennsylvania’s stiff regulations. About half of the states in the country have rules specifically for abortion facilities.
In Virginia, abortion advocates labeled the new rules a thinly veiled attempt to shut down facilities that couldn’t afford to meet the architectural standards, which include awnings over outside doors and minimum doorway widths (required to ensure that an emergency gurney can get patients to an ambulance).
But pro-life advocates say the Virginia regulations, which also include numerous record-keeping and inspection standards, will improve health and safety at facilities long operated without oversight.
Prior to the rule change, abortion centers in Virginia needed only to abide by the standards of doctors’ offices. Since last June, public health inspectors have found more than 100 health and safety code violations at the state’s abortion facilities.
Mallory Quiqley, a spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List and Women Speak Out Virginia, told The Washington Post, “The violations that have been discovered in Virginia abortion clinics include blood-stained equipment and operating tables, improper disposal of fetal remains, staff failure to properly sanitize instruments, and even doctors performing exams with unwashed hands.”
A lack political will to enforce existing regulations allowed a Virginia abortion center to operate largely as they pleased, Chris Freund, vice president at the Family Foundation, told WORLD. “For over two decades abortion centers in Virginia have been able to hide behind a veil of political secrecy,” he said. “They were held to no health and safety standards and no one knew what was going on.”
State Delegate Bob Marshall of Virginia's 13th District explained to the Huffington Post in a Google Hangout that the medical establishment and the abortion industry itself came up with many of the new regulations: “The standards we are developing now are standards developed by Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation, the American College of OBGYN, and the American Institute of Architects—none of which have any religious affiliations.”
Marshall added that abortion centers only have to comply with these standards if they meet the minimum number of abortions per month, as required under the bill.
In the same interview, Terina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said that most Virginia abortion centers will try to comply within the two-year limit but the cost to renovate will be upward of $100,000, and some will have to close. “It is clear that this is an attempt to end abortion care in Virginia,” she said.
One facility is closing its doors. Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, Va., shut down on April 20 due to $500,000 in needed repairs to the building after inspections and a decline in demand for abortions. In 2009, Hillcrest alone performed 2,116 abortions, compared to 1,629 in 2012.
“The abortion industry will now have to invest their profit into actually making sure clinics are sterilized properly, their staff is trained, and emergency personnel are on sight,” Fruend said. “They will actually have to put some profit back into their facilities. … The fact is simply that the abortion industry is about profit, not healthcare.”