- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed off on permanent regulations that will hold abortion clinics to the same building standards as hospitals, joining Arizona and Michigan as states looking to tighten their abortion-facility standards to among the most stringent in the nation.

The new regulations come amid 43 abortion restrictions enacted by states last year — the second-most on record, after 92 such measures were adopted in 2011, according to a report released Wednesday by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.

About half the measures last year were passed in six states: Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. They include prohibitions on abortions after 20 weeks, when a fetus is deemed old enough to feel pain, and requirements that doctors prescribe abortion-inducing drugs in person rather than by teleconference.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, certified the Virginia regulations late last week, three months after they were adopted by the state’s Board of Health. The regulations must now go through a 60-day public comment period and then will have to be finalized by the board and the attorney general before heading back to Mr. McDonnell for another approval before taking effect.

The guidelines regulate many architectural aspects of abortion clinics, such as the size of operating rooms, the number of sinks and the widths of hallways. Pro-choice groups have spent more than a year arguing that such regulations are unnecessary and will force many clinics to make costly renovations or go out of business. Mr. McDonnell contends that the new policy is strictly about ensuring proper care and health standards for patients.

“The governor believes these common-sense regulations will help ensure 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,” McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin said Wednesday in an email.

Michigan’s regulations apply to facilities that perform at least 120 abortions a year, while Virginia’s apply to those that perform at least five a month.

Arizona’s regulations include mandates on follow-up procedures and reporting of complications.

The number of pro-life bills that have been introduced — and often enacted — across the nation has increased as Republicans have increased their strength in state after state in the past two election cycles.

Abortion and contraception were “front-burner issues” during the 2012 presidential election year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which noted in its report that pro-choice groups and their allies “were able to block high-profile attacks” on women’s access to abortion in several states.

“That said, no laws were enacted this year to facilitate or improve access to abortion, family planning or comprehensive sex education,” it added.

Among the most hotly debated issues last year was pre-abortion ultrasounds.

In early 2012, as many as 10 states were poised to require women to have ultrasounds to ensure they were fully informed about their pregnancy before they had an abortion.

The most notable debate occurred in Virginia over whether invasive transvaginal ultrasounds must be used to view very young fetuses.

The ensuing debate, which was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live,” “blunted efforts” to pass ultrasound laws in at least three states, the institute said. Moreover, the law passed in Virginia — which became the eighth state law to require pre-abortion ultrasounds — was revised to require a noninvasive abdominal ultrasound.

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