“At first glance, we still anticipate that our health center in Falls Church would not be able to comply with these regulations,” said Laura Meyers, chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Falls Church. Last year, the center had 5,000 patients and performed 800 abortions.
Anti-abortion advocates have been pushing for two decades to impose new regulations that would treat abortion clinics as ambulatory surgery centers and require that they meet hospital-type regulations. They say such rules will make Virginia clinics safer for women because they will no longer be treated like doctor’s offices.
The regulations require the same strict physical requirements as outpatient surgical centers that would be doing complex and invasive surgery, abortion rights activists said. The new requirements are based on dozens of pages of guidelines for health-care facilities published by the Facility Guidelines Institute, a nonprofit group. They specify size of exam rooms (minimum “clear floor area of 80 feet”), public corridors that are a minimum width of 5 feet, and minimum ceiling heights of 7 feet 10 inches.
“The physical plant requirements would be just about the worst in the country,” said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health research center that gathers comprehensive data on abortion in the United States. “They will require abortion clinics to meet the physical plant requirements of hospitals, which is completely out of scale with the safe nature of abortion.”
The proposal also allows the state’s health commissioner to suspend or revoke a clinic’s license, requires that a facility has an infection prevention plan and mandates that anesthesia be administered by a doctor.
Groups, such as the conservative Family Foundation and Virginia Catholic Conference,
the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic dioceses, had been eagerly awaiting the regulations. But organizations on both sides said Friday they needed more time for analysis.
Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation, said Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, should have enough money to ensure clinics are safe for women.
The rules would apply to anyone in Virginia who provides five or more first-trimester abortions a month. Virginia law requires that second-trimester abortions be performed at hospitals.
The 15-member Board of Health, which has a majority appointed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), is scheduled to vote on the rules Sept. 15. They would go into effect Dec. 31. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and McDonnell will then review the regulations.