Prince William board urges Va. to regulate abortion clinics

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prince William County's Republican supervisors have officially endorsed the Virginia attorney general's legal opinion that the state can impose stricter regulations for first-trimester abortions.

During the Board of County Supervisors meeting Tuesday, six supervisors approved a resolution that asks Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to direct the Virginia Board of Health and the Virginia Board of Medicine to create, publish and enforce regulations for first-trimester abortion facilities and providers. John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) and Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) abstained from voting on the resolution.

"I don't think it is appropriate for the board to act on a state and federal matter despite the fact I am a pro-life advocate," Principi said. "And Prince William doesn't even have a abortion clinic in the county. I think it's totally inappropriate to act on this."

The board's resolution comes almost a month after the Manassas City Council took a similar stance supporting Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II's August legal opinion. Cuccinelli (R) drafted the opinion in response to requests from Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) and state Sen. Ralph K. Smith (R-Roanoke), who asked whether the state had the authority to regulate the facilities. The opinion applies only to first-trimester abortions, as second- and third-trimester abortions are performed in hospitals.

In the Prince William area, there is one first-trimester abortion clinic: Amethyst Health Center for Women in Manassas. The facility has been open for more than 20 years and sees nearly 1,200 patients annually, said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.

"This resolution . . . deals with one thing and one thing only, and that is the protection of women's health," said Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville). "I recognize there are no abortion clinics in Prince William, but it would be ignorant not to recognize that the Manassas facility draws its patients from Prince William County."

Stirrup, who introduced the resolution, said the county board is responsible for the health, welfare and safety of the community. Stirrup contended that there are no sanitary standards at the facilities or assurance that the procedure is performed by a doctor.

"I think that is a deceptive practice and falsely gives women the sense this is a safe procedure," Stirrup said about the lack of regulations.

Saporta said the Manassas clinic is regulated by certain organizations, including the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program and the National Abortion Federation, of which it is a member.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia asked the governor last month not to direct the Board of Health to regulate first-trimester abortions. Like Saporta, NARAL Programs and Communications Manager Joseph Richards said regulations are in place and first-trimester facilities must also follow HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Richards said he also provided supervisors with a list of state and federal regulations for first-trimester facilities. One Virginia code he pointed to states it is "lawful for any physician licensed by the Board of Medicine to practice medicine and surgery to terminate a human pregnancy or aid or assist in the termination . . . by performing an abortion . . . during the first trimester."

"The biggest problem we see in this debate is people like Stirrup, Delegate Marshall and [Manassas council member] Marc Aveni saying first-trimester abortions aren't regulated, and that is absolutely untrue," Richards said. "One of the problems is people could read something like that that says they aren't regulated and then not utilize [the facility] to get the care they need."

Some abortion rights organizations have also said Cuccinelli is trying to circumvent the General Assembly, which has repeatedly rejected similar measures. Abortion rights advocates said new regulations could prompt the shutdown of 17 of the state's 21 clinics performing abortions.

Officials with the governor's office said that McDonnell is reviewing Cuccinelli's legal opinion and that it has not been addressed by the Board of Health.

"We're just asking the state to function and do the things [it is] doing everywhere else in the health-care field," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). "They have just been given a pass in this particular area over the years. I think it's right for us to step forward and say: Okay, commonwealth, it's time to do things equitably across" the board.

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