Always a politically charged issue in the commonwealth, abortion is likely to take on an even greater presence in this year’s governor’s race because of the new clinic rules. The race features two candidates who seem to be polar opposites on the issue: Cuccinelli, an opponent of abortion, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a supporter of abortion rights.
Within five minutes of the board’s vote, partisans on both sides blasted e-mails variously linking the vote to one candidate or the other.
“Board of Health puts politics before medicine, approves Cuccinelli’s outrageous women’s health restrictions,” read a release from ProgressVA, a liberal group.
The Susan B. Anthony List, which supports Cuccinelli and works to elect politicians opposed to abortion nationwide, countered with its own statement, headlined: “McAuliffe Puts Big Abortion Ahead of Safety of Virginia Women.”
The board’s action comes at a time when measures restricting abortion seem to be gaining traction in statehouses across the country, with four states adopting stringent restrictions on the procedure in the past six weeks.
The issue was uncharacteristically muted during this year’s Virginia General Assembly session, in sharp contrast to the 2012 session, which was consumed by a proposal to require women to undergo a vaginal ultrasound before an abortion. The Republican leadership, who felt the ultrasound controversy helped Democrats push claims of a GOP “war on women” in last fall’s presidential and U.S. Senate contests, saw to it this year that abortion bills of any sort quietly died in committee.
The board’s decision will provide fresh fodder for Democrats, who spent two straight weeks recently trying to drum up interest in Cuccinelli’s past comparison of antiabortion activists to abolitionists.
The vote stems from legislation that cleared the legislature two years ago and has been slowly making its way through implementation.
The General Assembly voted in 2011 to impose stricter building codes on clinics, calling for costly physical renovations, such as wider hallways and doorways, expanded parking and entrance awnings. Supporters said the changes ensure the safety of women undergoing abortions at the clinics. Opponents said the measure was a veiled attempt to shutter them.
It fell to the state Board of Health to implement the new rules. In a surprise move in June, the board voted to exempt existing clinics from the new standard. But the board reversed itself in September, adopting the regulations without grandfathering in the established clinics. The board confirmed that decision with Friday’s final vote.