- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2010

Virginia has the legal right to regulate abortion clinics in the same manner it currently regulates hospitals and surgery centers, says Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II — a ruling that pro-choice advocates say could cost abortion providers $2 million and put most of them out of business.

An opinion issued Friday by the pro-life Republican comes after years of attempts by conservative legislators to pass additional restrictions in the General Assembly for abortion clinics, which in Virginia have been treated for regulatory purposes as physicians’ offices.

“The state has long regulated outpatient surgical facilities and personnel to ensure a certain level of protection for patients. There is no reason to hold facilities providing abortion services to any lesser standard for their patients,” said Brian J. Gottstein, a spokesman for Mr. Cuccinelli.

“Even pharmacies, funeral homes and veterinary clinics are regulated by the state,” he said.

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said meeting the structural requirements of the regulations could cost as much as $2 million and would be “financially prohibitive” for abortion providers.

“This is definitely based on political ideology,” she said. “We want nothing more than to have the safest guidelines and regulations. But this isn’t an attempt to make abortion safe, this is an attempt to make abortion inaccessible.”

The opinion, which only interprets Virginia law and does not change it, says the additional regulations are permissible as long as they “adhere to constitutional limitations.”

Mr. Cuccinelli acknowledged in the opinion that the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion limits the state’s right to regulate abortion.

But he also cited a 2000 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that said regulations “addressing medical and safety aspects of providing abortions, as well as the recordkeeping and administrative practices of abortion clinics, and which applied to all abortions including abortions performed during the first trimester, were valid.”

Mentioning rules implemented in 1981 that were withdrawn in 1984, Mr. Cuccinelli said Virginia “previously exercised this authority.”

In a footnote, he describes those regulations, which included, among other requirements, “disclosure of ownership, limits on abortions performed in the clinics to those occurring in the first trimester, presence of a medical director and appropriate nursing and counseling staff, and detailed clinical area design.”

The opinion was prepared in response to questions from state Sen. Ralph K. Smith, Roanoke Republican, and Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, about whether Virginia can regulate facilities that provide first-trimester abortions as well as the medical personnel who perform them.

Current Virginia law applies to second-trimester abortions and lawmakers have not been able to pass legislation that applies to clinics that only perform first- trimester abortions.

“The attorney general’s opinion makes it clear that the dangers documented in hundreds of medical journal articles at the National Library of Medicine can be addressed by the governor in regulations to protect the health and safety of women who go for first-trimester abortions in Virginia,” Mr. Marshall said.