- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2011

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Thursday approved new regulations for abortion facilities that proponents argue will protect patient health but critics claim will shut down a majority of the state’s abortion providers.

The regulations, approved in September by the state Board of Health, will require existing facilities that provide five or more first-trimester abortions per month and are now treated like outpatient clinics to meet the same standards as surgery centers built after 2010. Those centers must meet, among other things, specific architectural standards and staffing levels and carry certain medical supplies.

“The governor believes these common-sense regulations will help ensure that this 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,” spokeswoman Taylor Thornley wrote in an email.

But Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said a legal challenge could be in the works.

“Certainly, there are no existing clinics that can meet these regulations,” she said. “If women do not have access to safe, affordable abortion care, this legal and common medical procedure is essentially banned for them.”

The board passed the draft regulations, with several amendments, on a 12-1 vote. The lone dissenting vote was cast by James H. Edmondson Jr., a McLean developer.

Nine members of the Board of Health were appointed by Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who favors the regulations, and six members - including Mr. Edmondson - were appointed by Mr. McDonnell’s Democratic predecessor, Tim Kaine.

Two Kaine appointees, H. Anna Jeng and Bennie Marshall, both registered nurses, were absent from the meeting during which the vote was taken.

Legislation approved by the state Legislature and signed by the governor this year directed the state board to craft the rules.

It specified they be published within 280 days of Mr. McDonnell’s signing the measure and were to be treated as “emergency regulations” not subject to the normal public comment and review process, which can take two years or longer.

Similar proposals have been routinely been shot down in the Senate Education and Health Committee, this year stacked 10-5 in favor of Democrats. In a bit of parliamentary maneuvering, however, Republicans tacked the measure onto a bill that had already cleared the Senate, sending the matter straight to the floor. Two pro-life Democrats, Sens. Charles J. Colgan and Phillip P. Puckett, joined 18 Republicans to produce a 20-20 tie, which was broken by Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

After the Board of Health’s vote, the regulations also passed through the office of the attorney general, as well as the Department of Planning and Budget and the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Temporary regulations will remain in place for 12 months while permanent rules are drafted, though Mr. McDonnell has the authority to extend them up to an additional six months.

They are scheduled to be published in the Virginia register Jan. 16, at which time a one-month public comment will begin.