The emergency regulations were approved 12-1 Thursday, and would impose stricter safety standards on state abortion clinics, but some say they reduce access for low-income women.
By a vote of 12-1, the Virginia Board of Health approved abortion clinic regulations that opponents say will force many of the state's clinics to close. The commonwealth now has some of the toughest abortion clinic regulations in the country.
The regulations passed Thursday afternoon are temporary, and will remain in effect while permanent regulations are developed.
The new emergency regulations require facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions to obtain licenses under hospital guidelines and undergo annual inspections. Currently, abortion facilities are regulated as outpatient clinics, such as oral or cosmetic surgery centers.
But former state health department director Bill Nelson says clinics already have stringent rules, and called the charge that they’re dangerous unfounded.
"The idea that you can't find data, that it's dangerous, and then to hear a voice say we need to find out what's going on in those clinics, represents a very serious threat to the safety and the privacy of abortion providers and more importantly to the women of Virginia that come to these clinics," Nelson says. He argues that records should not be removed from clinics during the inspections, as has been proposed.
Chris Freund, spokesman for the Family Foundation -- an anti-abortion activist group that lobbied for the regulations -- counters that the many other services these facilities provide will not be jeopardized.
"All of the medical services that have been mentioned today as services in these facilities can continue," he says.
James Edmondson, the only member of the board voting against the changes, says he believes the regulations as written would put some clinics out of business. The board spent three hours discussing the regulations after a 90-minute public hearing in which 32 people spoke, about two-thirds of them in opposition to the measure.