Although clinic operators say they haven’t received specifics about the regulations, they say state health officials have told them that the rules are modeled on those adopted by South Carolina, which has some of the nation’s most-restrictive rules, activists said. Among the state’s 46 pages of requirements, for example, is one that says sinks must have hands-free faucets and others that govern air flow and temperature in clinics.
“These really have nothing to do with patients and everything to do with making it harder to provide abortion services,” said Elizabeth Nash, a public- policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health research center that gathers the most comprehensive data on abortion in the United States.
Antiabortion activists have long been urging that Virginia abortion clinics be treated like ambulatory surgical centers, arguing that doing so would make the clinics safer.
“After more than two decades of hiding behind a veil of politically motivated secrecy, abortion centers in Virginia now face real, tangible regulations,’’ said Victoria Cobb, executive director of the conservative Family Foundation. “We look forward to seeing the proposed regulations and working with the administration in the coming weeks to ensure that the final regulations adequately protect women in Virginia.”
The rules would affect only facilities that perform first-trimester abortions. Virginia law requires that second-trimester abortions be performed at hospitals.
The state Health Department is expected to release the draft regulations as soon as Friday, officials said. 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.
The public will be able to comment online before then and for an hour at the meeting. McDonnell, an abortion opponent, will have the final say before the emergency rules would take effect Dec. 31. After that, health officials would begin crafting permanent rules, which could take up to two years to implement.
The emergency regulations would fast-track the process and expand the Health Department and the gubernatorial staff’s power to write rules.
Even if permanent regulations adopted through the longer process were less restrictive, abortion rights advocates say they fear that tough emergency rules would force clinics to close.
On Thursday, representatives from several abortion-rights groups said they are concerned that Virginia might join other states that have enacted regulations aimed primarily at restricting access to abortion.