VIRGINIA ATTORNEY General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) was instrumental in ensuring that new regulations will result in the closure of many of the state’s abortion clinics. Two of the busiest, in Northern Virginia and Norfolk, already have closed. If Mr. Cuccinelli is elected governor in November, most of the remaining 18 clinics are likely to shut their doors within months.

That would make access to abortion, as well as to family planning advice, difficult for thousands of Virginia women, particularly in rural areas; in some cases, it would become practically impossible. It would also represent a capstone in the Republican campaign in Richmond to limit abortion, despite Supreme Court rulings protecting it.

Aides to Mr. Cuccinelli’s Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, believe the next governor could move unilaterally to protect existing abortion clinics. He could do so by instructing the health commissioner to grant waivers to individual clinics or, possibly, by urging that existing clinics be exempted from the regulations.

In fact, the state Board of Health was leaning in just that direction when Mr. Cuccinelli intervened two years ago, warning board members that his office would not defend them in the event they were sued. Cowed, the board reversed course and decided the new regulations would apply to existing clinics. That prompted the health commissioner, Karen Remley, to resign.

The effect was to impose regulations intended for full-service hospitalson outpatient abortion clinics, where patients typically spend a few hours at most. Other types of walk-in clinics, including those that perform oral and cosmetic surgery, are unaffected by the regulations. Abortion clinics, singled out arbitrarily, are the sole target.

In order to stay open, most of the clinics would have to retrofit their facilities to widen hallways, expand parking lots, install expensive (and unneeded) equipment and rebuild janitorial closets. Most can’t bear the cost.

There is no evidence that women are at risk in Virginia’s abortion clinics, nor is there evidence of serious or widespread unsanitary conditions that endanger women’s health. The state’s clinics are pawns in the clash over abortion rights.

But the question of their survival is more than symbolic. It will determine whether access to abortion, sanctioned by the Supreme Court, is real or notional. The decision will rest squarely with whomever is elected the next governor.