Update, 4 p.m.: The Board of Health voted to adopt regulations for abortion clinics by a vote of 12 to 1 after 4 1/2 hours of testimony and debate.
Original post: The Board of Health, expected to vote Thursday afternoon on draft regulations that would regulate abortion clinics in Virginia, heard an hour of emotional testimony from residents across the state.
Abortion-rights activists argue that the regulations, released last month, are simply a way to shut down many of the state’s 22 clinics that perform abortions.
“We are here today not because of a concern over women’s health,’’ said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “We are here today because of a political battle that has raged in this state for decades.”
But anti-abortion advocates have been pushing for years to impose regulations that would treat abortion clinics as ambulatory surgery centers and require that they meet hospital-type regulations.
“Without adequate regulations, there is simply no way for anyone to know what’s happened inside these clinics,’’ said Chris Freund of the conservative Family Foundation. “Let’s face facts here. The stats we have are provided by the industry itself. We cannot know what is happening inside these clinics.”
The rules would apply to anyone in Virginia who provides five or more first-trimester abortions a month. Virginia law requires that second-trimester abortions be performed at hospitals.
The speakers split on support and opposition to the regulations. One woman in the packed room interrupted an anti-abortion activist. “It’s against the law!’’ she screamed before the board chairman told her to stop, and warned that the police would remove anyone who interferes with the meeting.
The Board of Health, which has a nine-member majority appointed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), will vote on the rules. Two of the members appointed by former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) are absent.
If the regulations pass, they will go to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and McDonnell for review. The regulations would take effect Dec. 31.
Regulatory changes to the Board of Health typically take up to two years to implement. But state officials have been rushing to adopt emergency rules after the General Assembly voted this spring to mandate that the rules be written no more than 280 days after a bill is signed into law.
The emergency rules will remain in effect while permanent regulations are crafted.