The office of Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II (R) on Monday refused to sign off on state Board of Health regulations that had exempted current abortion clinics from new, hospital-style construction standards.

In a surprise move a month ago, the board voted to exempt existing facilities from the new rules, which would have required extensive renovations.

In a four-sentence letter to the health department, senior assistant Attorney General Allyson K. Tysinger said that the the office would not certify the regulations.

“The Board does not have the statutory authority to adopt these Regulations,” it says. “[T]he Board has exceeded its authority. Thus, this Office cannot certify these Regulations.”

The action by the attorney general’s office is not the final word on the subject. The regulations, which would require extensive renovations, will continue to go through executive branch review. The attorney general’s office was only the first step in that process.

“Our office merely reviews the regulations and certifies whether they are compliant with the law or not,” said Brian J. Gottstein, spokesman for the office. “We make that determination solely on a legal basis, not on the basis of whether we agree with the policy or not.”

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) could still chose to approve the regulations — or deny them and send them back to the board, recommending amendments, Gottstein said.

McDonnell’s office did not state an immediate position on the matter.

“We will await the Board’s next actions based on the Attorney General’s analysis and the law as passed last year,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said.

Before the board voted last month to soften the regulations by grandfathering in existing clinics, the rules had been among the toughest in the nation.

After one the most contentious debates of the 2011 General Assembly session, legislators voted to regulate abortion clinics like outpatient surgical centers. State officials quickly wrote emergency regulations dictating such things as the size of exam rooms and the storage of patient records.

Last month, the Board of Health had been expected to pass permanent regulations that were substantially the same as the emergency rules. It did so, but with an amendment partially grandfathering in existing clinics.

If the board’s decision stands, clinics would still have to submit to some aspects of the regulations, including those requiring more extensive record keeping. But they would not have to revamp their facilities, such as by widening hallways and doorways or installing drinking fountains and telephones in waiting rooms. Many clinics had said those costly renovations could force them to close.