“We are here today not because of a concern over women’s health,’’ said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, who teared up after the vote. “We are here today because of a political battle that has raged in this state for decades.”
For years, antiabortion activists have been pushing for regulations that would treat abortion clinics as ambulatory surgery centers and require that they meet hospital-type regulations.
“Without adequate regulations, there is simply no way for anyone to know what’s happening inside these clinics,’’ said Chris Freund, vice president of the conservative Family Foundation, which is in favor of the new rules.
The 12 to 1 vote came after 4 1/2 hours of sometimes testy debate among board members and passionate public testimony from residents split over the regulations. Chairman Bruce Edwards repeatedly warned the audience that police officers in the room and hall would remove anyone who interfered with the meeting.
“You government dogs!” a man yelled after the vote. “You should know better.”
The regulations will go into effect Dec. 31 if approved by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who opposed abortion rights when he served in the General Assembly. The rules are considered emergency regulations that could be in effect for as long as 18 months before the board approves permanent rules.
The board’s decision came a day after the release of poll results showing that 55 percent of Virginia’s registered voters approve of requiring clinics to meet hospital-type regulations, compared with 22 percent who disapprove.
Abortion rights organizations spent weeks signing petitions, writing letters and holding rallies to try to convince the board that the regulations would require cost-prohibitive renovations that have nothing to do with women’s health.
On Thursday, the board heard the testimony of residents from across the state, many of whom turned the discussion into a referendum on whether abortion should be legal.
“Just because something is legal, that does not make it morally right,’’ said Frances Bouton, a Suffolk resident who equated abortion to slavery. “No person has the right to kill another, especially a mother killing her child.”
Corrina Beall, a recent college graduate who recently moved to Fairfax City, said young women need the health care provided at women’s centers. “The young women rely on these services,’’ she said. “I rely on these services. The families of Virginia rely on these services, and my generation relies on these services. Do not take them away.”