Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Virginia State News

March 7, 2013

Va. board conducts hearing on abortion clinic regs

RICHMOND, Va. —  Former Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley was among more than two dozen people who testified Thursday at the latest in a series of public hearings on the state’s new abortion clinic regulations.

Remley resigned in October over the regulations, telling Gov. Bob McDonnell in a letter that her ability to fulfill her duties had been compromised. The resignation came after Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, an anti-abortion Republican, pressured the board into changing its previous decision to exempt existing clinics from the regulations’ strict building standards.

The Richmond Times Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/Z34weU ) that at Thursday’s public hearing, Remley urged the board and Health Department officials to avoid “over-reaching interpretations” in their application of the new regulations.

“For all health care facilities including abortion facilities, rigidity in interpretation will potentially decrease access to safe and quality care,” she said.

Abortion-rights supporters say the requirement that existing clinics meet the same building guidelines as newly constructed hospitals would require expensive renovations that would force most of the state’s 20 clinics out of business. The standards govern such details as room sizes and doorway widths.

Democratic Sen. Ralph Northam, a Norfolk pediatric neurologist who is running for lieutenant governor, expressed “grave reservations” about the regulations.

“It is time that our legislators and our policymakers and our attorney general start listening to scientific data, evidence based medicine and not ignore it,” Northam said. “And most importantly it is time for them to listen to women and keep the government out of their lives.”

The new regulations took effect on an emergency basis on Jan. 1, 2012. Chris Freund of the anti-abortion Family Foundation of Virginia noted that health inspections last year turned up more than 100 violations at the clinics, proving more regulation is needed.

“The abortion industry continues to claim that it is safe, but inspection reports are indisputable evidence that their idea of safe is far different than any reasonable person could claim,” he said.

The board conducted two public hearings on the regulations last year and initially voted to exempt existing clinics from the new-hospital building standards. Cuccinelli told the board it had exceeded its authority by accommodating the existing clinics because the 2011 law mandating the standards specifically required the architectural standards. After a second public hearing, the board reversed course and voted 13-2 to tentatively approve the new regulations.

The attorney general and the governor certified the regulations late last year, triggering another round of public comment starting with Thursday’s hearing in Richmond. Another public hearing is set for Tuesday in Alexandria. A final vote is expected later this year.

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