Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has signed a bill into law that requires clinics where first-trimester abortions are performed to be regulated as hospitals.
The bill gives the state’s Board of Health 280 days to enact new regulations for clinics. Abortion rights advocates say they fear that the regulations will include requirements regarding hallway and doorway width, along with new staffing and equipment rules, whose cost they say could force as many as 17 of the state’s 21 clinics to close.
McDonnell’s signature comes as little surprise. He had indicated he supported the bill, arguing that it would improve the health of women who get abortions. The measure passed after Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling broke a 20-20 tie in the state Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow two-vote majority. His signature starts the clock on what will be a speedy process for enacting new emergency regulations for the clinics; these will be in place for up to 18 months, while more permanent rules are written.
Staff for the Virginia Department of Health will spend several months writing the draft emergency regulations. The Board of Health will weigh those rules in September — by that time, appointees of McDonnell, an abortion opponent, will hold a majority on the panel.
The rules will be in place by Jan. 1, officials have said.
In a statement, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene called it a “distressing day for the women of Virginia.”
“Through a legally questionable and ethically indefensible political gimmick, Gov. McDonnell has pushed through legislation that may result in politically motivated regulations of first trimester abortion providers that have nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with the General Assembly and governor’s personal ideology,” she said.
She said the bill is “not an isolated act” but part of an agenda by McDonnell, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and legislators to use “government to further interfere in our personal, private decisions.”