Virginia GOP Use Emergency Rule To Impose Anti-Abortion Rules, May Force 17 Of 21 Clinics To Close

In their battle against a woman’s right to choose, anti-choice Republicans have adopted a new tactic to enforce their agenda: deem any anti-choice bill an “emergency.” In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) saddled a forced sonogram bill with an “emergency item” status to allow the state GOP to drive it through the legislature “within the first 30 days of the current legislative session.”

Virginia Republicans are now following suit. Last month, the Virginia legislature passed a bill requiring the state’s 21 abortion clinics to be regulated like hospitals. Currently, the clinics — which handle only first-trimester abortions — are subject to “the same regulations as physician practices that perform any number of invasive procedures” like cataract surgery, spinal taps, or plastic surgery. But the health bill now before Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) mandates hospital regulations that “would compel them to undergo retrofitting of their facilities that at least 17 of them could not afford” and that would ultimately force them to close.

But to make sure of this result, the anti-choice bill also “triggers the state’s emergency regulatory process,” meaning that the new regulations must be written “no more than 280 days” after McDonnell signs the bill into law. This process would give the State Board of Health only one chance to weigh in on regulations that “longtime opponent of abortion” McDonnell will essentially write, alter, and implement however he chooses:

The emergency rule writing process significantly expands the power of the health department and gubernatorial staff in writing the regulations.

It means the Board of Health — which at present includes eight members appointed by Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine (D) — has just one opportunity to formally weigh in before rules go into place. It will occur Sept. 15, when the group reviews, amends and ultimately votes on a draft of new rules written by staff members.

Once adopted by the Board of Health, the emergency regulations can still be altered by McDonnell, who will consult with the Department of Planning and Budget and Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R). [Health Commissioner Karen] Remley told board members that Mc­Don­nell will sign the regulations by January 1, after which they will go into effect.

McDonnell’s Health Department official Joe Hilbert pointed out that, after the board weighs in, the regulations will be subject to “executive review” by Virginia’s radically right-wing AG Ken Cuccinelli (R), who has been pushing this bill for years, and the McDonnell administration. Hilbert said “there is no public comment period to review any changes made during the executive review,” nor does the board get to vote on the revisions before the regulations are implemented Jan. 1, 2012.

Anti-abortion activists will also get another leg-up from an “influx” of McDonnell’s appointees to the Virginia Board of Health. Already, McDonnell has named 6 of the board’s 14 members. He will fill the 15th member vacancy in the coming months, and replace another member whose term ends June 30. With that, McDonnell’s eight appointments will outnumber the board members chosen by the former governor and give McDonnell “expansive power to shape clinic rules.”

All this is orchestrated,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Tarina Keene. “The governor can have just as much power over this as he wants to,” she added. And while the McDonnell can make unilateral choices regarding women’s reproductive rights, the GOP’s “emergency” maneuver makes sure Virginia women don’t have any.