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Virginia assembly says abortion clinics should be regulated as hospitals

The tie-breaking vote was cast by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), long a proponent of clinic regulations. All 18 of the chamber's Republicans backed the bill, as did two conservative Democrats, Sens. Charles J. Colgan (Prince William) and Phillip P. Puckett (Russell).

More than 26,000 abortions were performed in Virginia in 2009, most in clinics that have been regulated since the early 1980s much like doctors' offices where colonoscopies and cosmetic surgeries are performed.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Rosemary Codding, director of patient services at Falls Church Healthcare Center, where first-trimester abortions are performed. "This has nothing to do with quality care for women. . . . They are denying what Roe v. Wade said we could do."

Shelley Abrams, executive director of A Capital Women's Clinic in Richmond, where more than 1,500 abortions are performed each year, said clinic directors fear that the future requirements could be onerous.

She said that her clinic is committed to abiding by any new rules but that renovations could be cost-prohibitive for some centers.

"They could require things that are completely unnecessary," she said.

Planned Parenthood's Honke said that under the most restrictive guidelines, retrofitting a clinic could cost more than $1 million.

Antiabortion activists said those fears are overstated and insisted that they aren't aiming to shut down Virginia clinics. They have long argued that clinics should be treated like outpatient ambulatory surgical centers and say that some clinics lack basic standards of cleanliness.

"Dental clinics and even barbershops have more regulations than these clinics," said Susan Hays, a counselor at AAA Women for Choice in Manassas, an antiabortion group a few doors away from an abortion clinic. "We support these regulations, and it's the first push to stop the legalization of killing babies."

In recent weeks, abortion foes have cited the case of a Philadelphia area clinic recently shut down after authorities discovered a series of botched and illegal abortions; inspectors discovered containers of fetal parts.

In response, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) fired state health department workers this month for not monitoring clinics more closely and issued new regulations for clinics in his state.

"These are health professionals who are going to promulgate appropriate regulations," Cobb said, in reference to Virginia's Board of Health. "It's very typical of the other side that, rather than fight what this bill does, they want to fight the biggest extreme of what this bill could be."

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