- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Virginia Board of Health on Friday is scheduled to vote on permanent regulations for abortions that critics decry as unnecessarily burdensome but proponents say are meant to ensure women’s health.

Regulations approved by the board last fall call for existing facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month to meet hospitallike standards, including specific requirements on hallway width and the size of janitorial closets.

Dr. James E. “Jef” Ferguson II, who was one of a handful of advisers who helped craft the regulations, said the rules the board approved in September were vastly different from the ones submitted for review by officials, including those from the offices of Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and Gov. Bob McDonnell. Dr. Ferguson asked that his name be taken off the final draft.

“I couldn’t support the unnecessary regulations relating to building codes and the like as they didn’t have anything to do with physician care or safety,” he said. “They do not reflect the recommendation from the physicians and the medical community. This is discouraging to me.”

Proponents of the rules, though, say they are intended to protect the health and safety of women.

The conservative Family Foundation recently sent an email to supporters chronicling the career of Dr. Joel Match, who has been charged in a lawsuit with misdiagnosing a pregnancy leading to an improper procedure, and whose medical license was suspended last month by the state Board of Medicine. The group used him to show why they believe the new standards are necessary.

Critics, meanwhile, have decried the standards as politically motivated tools that could force most of the state’s clinics to close. A majority of the affected clinics have submitted applications outlining how they plan to comply with the general requirements and whether they will be able to meet the construction rules.

The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health said that only nonconstruction requirements apply at this point, though. Clinics have two years to comply with the new structural requirements.

Rosemary Codding, director of Falls Church Healthcare, which offers cancer screenings, annual care and first-trimester abortions, said the size requirements make the janitorial closet larger than some of their patient rooms. She estimated that the changes could cost from $500,000 to $1 million.

She also noted that in 10 years, the facility has had 11,000 abortion-care patients. Four had complications — or 0.00036 percent.

“How can that be improved?” she said. “If I spend a million dollars, will that improve that rate?”

After legislation was passed by the General Assembly in 2011 directing the board to craft the regulations, board members approved temporary ones in September. They took effect in late December.

Members of the board, who are political appointees, voted 12-1 in favor of the regulations. Nine of the members present were appointed by Mr. McDonnell, a Republican. James Edmonson, Jr. of McLean, the board’s consumer representative and the lone dissenting vote, was appointed by former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.

If approved, the draft regulations would go through executive branch review and be published in the Virginia Register. A 60-day comment period would follow. The board would then come back to approve the final regulations and the governor would sign off on them.

After final a 30-day period during which the governor can make final decisions, new regulations become effective unless they are suspended or at least 25 people request another public comment period.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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