Virginia To Require Existing Abortion Clinics To Comply With Regulations Intended For New Construction

On Friday, Virginia state health officials released draft regulations requiring existing state abortion providers to meet the physical plant requirements of hospitals. The new rules — the result of a TRAP (Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers) law passed by the General Assembly this spring — threaten to shut down Virginia’s abortion clinics, which only handle first-trimester abortions and are currently subject to the same regulations as physician practices.

The draft guidelines were formulated through an ‘emergency’ process that bypasses the normal public notice and rely on standards that were only “intended for brand new construction in the process of being built,” not existing clinics for whom compliance would be completely cost prohibitive. From the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health:

In particular, the draft regulations require existing women’s health centers in Virginia to meet extensive, significant physical plant requirements found in the 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities – including Guidelines for Outpatient Surgical Facilities, otherwise called ambulatory surgical facilities. These Guidelines are intended for brand new construction in the process of being built. These standards were never intended for existing health care structures and are not intended to apply to office-based surgical procedures. By relying on the 2010 Guidelines and imposing them on existing structures, the Virginia Department of Health would force substantial architectural changes by women’s health centers in order to be in compliance. Rather than protect women’s health, the regulations could endanger women because they could limit access to safe abortion by driving legitimate providers out of practice, which could place the health of women in Virginia in jeopardy.

The proposal also “allows the state’s health commissioner to suspend or revoke a clinic’s license, requires that a facility has an infection prevention plan and mandates that anesthesia be administered by a doctor.” The state’s Board of Health will vote on the rules on Sept. 15 and they will go into effect on Dec. 31. These “emergency rules will remain in effect while permanent regulations are crafted.”

Meanwhile, it is already difficult to access abortion services in the Commonwealth, “with 86 percent of Virginia’s counties lacking any abortion providers at all.”