Virginia Governor Quietly Certifies Restrictive Abortion Clinic Regulations

On the Friday between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) quietly approved new, stringent regulations intended to target abortion clinics. Virginia’s Board of Health adopted the new anti-abortion rules in September, and the governor’s certification is the next step toward making the regulations permanent — and potentially forcing many of the state’s 20 abortion clinics to close their doors.

A spokesperson for McDonnell explained the governor advanced the anti-abortion rules because he believes “these common-sense regulations will help ensure that this medical procedure takes place in facilities that are modern, safe and well-regulated, in order to help ensure the safety and well-being of all patients.” But women’s health advocates designate this type of legislation as the “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers” (TRAP) because — rather than doing anything to ensure women’s safety — they actually over-regulate abortion providers as an indirect method of restricting women’s reproductive rights. TRAP laws force many abortion clinics to close when they find themselves unable to comply with complicated, expensive standards.

Even though Virginia’s Board of Health is intended to operate as a nonpartisan medical body, the fight over enacting the new clinic regulations has become intensely political — a growing trend among state-level boards, which anti-abortion advocates are increasingly using to advance their anti-choice agendas.

When the Board considered the new rules before their final vote, protesters and women’s health advocates were barred from speaking during the hearing, and only a limited number of people were even permitted to enter the room. And it turned out State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) was essentially threatening Virginia’s Board — which ended up approving the TRAP laws by a 13-2 vote — by warning members they could be denied state-funded legal services if they voted to relax the clinic regulations. In October, Virginia health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley resigned from her position on the Board in protest of the regulations, citing her disapproval of the proposed TRAP laws as the primary reason she could no longer serve “in good faith.”

Now that McDonnell has approved the regulations, they will be sent back through the process of review by the Board of Health following a 60-day public comment period. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the permanent regulations are expected to be adopted by this summer.