Coming just weeks before Election Day, and on the heels of a General Assembly session dominated by contentious anti-abortion bills, the decision promises to further inflame the issue in Virginia’s neck-and-neck presidential and U.S. Senate races.
“There’s lot of people who are really fired up,” said Connie Boyer, 59, a retired computer programmer who was one of hundreds demonstrating outside the meeting and who held a sign reading “Stop the War on Virginia Women.” She added: “You talk about the Arab Spring. Well, we’ve got the same thing going on here.”
The board’s 13 to 2 decision also could have implications for next year’s race for governor — endearing Cuccinelli even more to the conservative activists expected to dominate the 2013 nominating convention but perhaps hurting him with swing voters if he gets to the general election.
Some of the state’s 20 abortion clinics have said they will go out of business if forced to make the costly renovations required to meet the new architectural standards.
The board’s decision is not the final word on the matter: The architectural rules face more hurdles in a review process that is expected to stretch into next year.
Even so, hundreds of activists on both sides of the abortion issue flocked to a Henrico County office park for the meeting, expressing either delight or outrage at the outcome.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” abortion rights advocates chanted once the vote was tallied. “Women are going to die!” Some yelled obscenities as security officers, who had used metal-detecting wands on everyone entering the meeting room, ushered them out.
Within seconds of the vote, Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation of Virginia issued a news release praising the decision and calling claims that clinics would close “hysterical.”
“We are pleased that the Board wasn’t fooled by the abortion industry’s distractions from the real issue of abortion centers in Virginia found with bloody patient tables, unsanitized conditions and untrained staffs,” Cobb said in the statement, referring to clinic inspection reports she had publicized in the days leading up to the meeting.
Some abortion rights advocates accused the attorney general of “bullying” the board with the letter, which was first brought to light by the Virginian-Pilot.
But some board members said they’d had a genuine change of heart after the board voted 7 to 4 in June to give clinics a reprieve.
“I regretfully admit I was operating under a lot of confusion” in June, said M. Catherine Slusher, a physician appointed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). “It’s not a matter of personal preferences. It’s a matter of the General Assembly has passed a law, and it’s up to us to create the regulations that abide with that law.”