McAuliffe directs health board to review strict abortion clinic regs

WASHINGTON – Gov. Terry McAuliffe has asked the Virginia Board of Health to review new regulations that treat the state’s abortion clinics like hospitals.

The governor announced the review along with changes to the board’s membership Monday. McAuliffe says he appointed five new members who support his plan to review the regulations.

The regulations were approved under a board largely appointed by former Gov. Bob McDonnell. The board initially tempered the effect of the regulations but later reversed itself after the attorney general’s office, then run by Ken Cuccinelli, rejected the rules.

McAuliffe campaigned aggressively against Cuccinelli’s anti-abortion stance in the race for governor last fall.

The board will review the regulations and they will look at the safety record of the clinics, says Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

He called the regulations unfair and short-sighted and said they were intended to decrease women’s access to these health services, not to improve patient safety.

“We need to try to reverse what happened two years ago,” Northam says. “We want women across the Commonwealth of Virgina to have access to safe and affordable reproductive health care. That’s what it’s all about.”

The cosmetic and structural changes needed to comply with the regulations has already shuttered several of the state’s clinics.

And a Falls Church clinic has sued to halt to the regulations saying the building design standards, which dictate door widths and covered entrances, aren’t medically necessary.

If the board revises the regulations, Northam says he hopes that some of the clinics will be able to reopen.

Delegate Bob Marshall, an out-spoken abortion opponent, calls the regulations simple standards and he questioned the governor’s authority to overturn the rules.

“We passed these regulations to minimize the damage done to women by abortionists who basically have free reign. Nobody one wants to sue them because women are embarrassed about having an abortion. This at least provides minimal protection to their health,” says Marshall, a Prince William County Republican.

McDonnell certified the regulations in early 2013. Clinics have until the middle of this year to comply.

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WTOP’s Megan Cloherty and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on Facebook.

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