Page 2 of 2   <      

Abortion clinics fear new Virginia law could shut them down

Codding watched as clinics around the country closed because they could not meet the hospital standards. So when she decided to build the Falls Church clinic, which opened in 2002, she razed the third-floor office space and built it to meet then-state standards for a Class II hospital, or surgical center.

"If I lived in California, I would reinforce my home against earthquakes. If I lived on the high-water-mark of the ocean, I'd have my house on stilts," she said. "I live in a state where there's an earthquake around abortion. So I had to build a center that could withstand whatever came down the road."

She walks through the center, where the doors and hallways are wide enough to accommodate a gurney. Her exam rooms are big enough and stocked with the equipment required of a surgical center.

"Our ventilation may have to be looked at. And we may need to put in a shower," she said. "Another regulation for ambulatory surgical centers is to have backup power. So we may have to get a good generator. But we may have city issues with that because the building isn't ours and we won't know if our landlord will let us put it on the roof."

Depending on what the 15-member Virginia Board of Health decides, Codding estimates it could cost at least $100,000 to bring her center up to current ambulatory surgical center standards. "This could still affect us dramatically," she said.

Likewise, David Nova, planned carefully when he supervised building the new Planned Parenthood clinics in Roanoke and Charlottesville. The facilities, he said, cost about $2 million to build. The hallways there and at two other Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia Beach and Richmond are wide enough for two gurneys to pass, like in all hospitals. And the exam room is now a "cavernous" 16 by 18 feet.

"You could get a dozen medical personnel in there and do open-heart surgery," Nova said. "And though our corridors are wide enough for two gurneys to pass by unimpeded, we have one gurney and we've never used it. So the wider corridors have nothing to do with safety. It really has to do with politics."

Cobb and other abortion opponents said no one knows what the Board of Health will do. "They could say, 'You need a defibrillator.' It could be that easy," Cobb said. "Current clinics could be grandfathered and new ones created to meet the standard. This isn't about putting abortion providers out of business. I just don't think that's what our Board of Health would do."

Just a few blocks up the street from Codding's Falls Church center, Laura Meyers squeezes through the narrow corridors of the Planned Parenthood clinic she runs. The clinic saw 5,000 patients last year and performed 900 abortions. "We clearly don't meet the standards here," she said. And the cost to move walls or retrofit the building would be "prohibitive." Of the 21 centers that provide most of the first-trimester abortions in the state, this is one, Meyers said, that would most likely close.

"What will happen?" Meyers said, sitting in the empty recovery room. She looked around. "I guess that's the question."

<       2

© 2011 The Washington Post Company