Virginia House Blocks Changes To Abortion Clinic Regulations

WASHINGTON -- The saga over Virginia's regulations of abortion clinics continued Thursday as the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates passed a budget amendment that would block the state board of health from implementing any changes to the rules.

The amendment, introduced by Del. Bob Marshall (R), was aimed at halting Gov. Terry McAuliffe's (D) push to ease existing regulations on abortion clinics. Advocates for abortion rights often refer to those rules as TRAP laws, or targeted regulations of abortion providers.

When Republican Robert McDonnell, McAuliffe's predecessor, was governor, the state board of health passed regulations requiring clinics to meet the same physical building standards as ambulatory surgical centers, incorporating specific ventilation systems, parking lot designs, hallway widths and covered entrances. Virginia's health commissioner at the time resigned in protest over the rules, which critics said were too expensive and unnecessarily restrictive.

In May 2014, McAuliffe ordered a review of the regulations. By that point, five clinics had already been forced to close because of the prohibitive cost of complying with the rules.

In October, the state's health commissioner said the regulations should be amended. In December, the health board, with new McAuliffe appointees, voted to begin revising the regulations on the argument that they're medically unnecessary.

On the state House floor Thursday, Marshall accused the board of health of meddling with the GOP-promoted regulations.

"I don't think they have the competence to do this," he said. "Unless they can come back with better regulations next year, which we can look at, I think we need to prevent them from meddling."

Del. David Albo (R) questioned whether Marshall was intent upon freezing all the regulations, or only those that he and like-minded politicians found objectionable.

"So your amendment says 'No expenditures may be made to implement any changes in regulations for abortion clinics,'" he said. "But what if some changes were changes that... you liked? Like, say, pro-life oriented. Wouldn't your amendment bar that?"

"If the McAuliffe administration is gonna start putting pro-life amendments on abortion clinics regulations, I will go to church every day and kneel for six hours," Marshall responded.

Marshall expanded on his thoughts Friday in an email to The Huffington Post.

"Governor McAuliffe indicated his opposition to the regulations during his election campaign and after that," Marshall wrote. "He is intent on appointing Health Board Members who will dismantle the regulations. There isn't the slightest possibility his appointees would tighten the regulations."

McAuliffe will be able to exercise line-item veto over the state budget, meaning that if Thursday's measure makes it to his desk, it may go no further than that.

Leaders of the national anti-abortion movement have acknowledged that harsh regulations on clinics, like those currently in place in Virginia, are as much about preventing women from undergoing the procedure as they are about patient health and safety.

After Virginia delegates passed the budget measure on Thursday, reproductive rights advocates accused the measure's supporters of putting their own ideology above women's well-being.

"Today's budget amendment is yet another attempt to circumvent science, medicine, and the will of the Virginia public," Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said in an email to HuffPost on Thursday. "Virginia's current restrictions on women's health centers have nothing to do with health and safety, and are instead a thinly-veiled attempt to close high-quality health centers and restrict access to critical medical care. That's why a large number of medical professionals - not to mention over 10,500 Virginians - succeeded last year in urging the Board of Health to amend the current restrictions."

Cianti Steward-Reid, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, argued Friday that the legislature should instead be working to pass a Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, as both chambers also rejected expanding the program in their respective budgets Thursday.

"Members of the General Assembly should focus their efforts on providing health care to the 400,000 hardworking Virginians in need, rather than attempting to deny, once again, women and families access to lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, and safe legal abortion," she said.



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