The General Assembly voted last year to require the guidelines, which were quickly adopted by the state’s Board of Health. In a surprise move, the panel later exempted the state’s existing clinics, including Codding’s on busy Lee Highway.
But Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) refused to sign off on the board’s decision, arguing that it lacked the legal authority to exclude the operating clinics.
Cuccinelli’s legal opinion has led to confusion — and uncertainty — among many of those who lead the state’s 22 clinics that perform abortions, because it’s unclear how the board would interpret his position. Since the board first voted, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has added three new members to the board, including a doctor who opposes abortion and helped draft the original regulations.
“All of this is so ridiculous,’’ said Codding, who runs the Falls Church Healthcare Center. “If you think everything is reasonable, you’re on the wrong track.’’
Abortion rights supporters say that Cuccinelli and McDonnell are trying to circumvent the panel’s decision and that the guidelines are a way to shut down clinics.
“Both actions are evidence of the coordinated effort by the attorney general, the governor and their radical right-wing partners to stop at nothing in their crusade to take away the rights of Virginia women,’’ according to a statement by a coalition of women’s rights advocates.
Both Cuccinelli and McDonnell have said they are constitutionally obligated to act and deny that they are trying to sidestep the board’s authority.
State inspectors have already fanned out across Virginia to determine what the clinics must do to be in compliance. Two of the 22 clinics have told state officials that they would have to move because they can’t afford the renovations specified by the guidelines. An additional 10 said they may need to move.
According to state figures, the expense for clinics requiring significant renovations will be $525 per square feet — or more than $2.6 million for a 5,000-square-foot facility.
Codding said she will know exactly how much the renovations would cost when an inspector visits her clinic but said she has already spent $13,000 for an architect’s assessment. She said she has been turned down for bank loans and is seeking investors or grants.
In one of its most contentious debates, the General Assembly voted last year to regulate abortion clinics like outpatient surgical centers. State officials wrote emergency regulations that include where to store patient records and the size of an exam room. Clinics have two years to make the changes.