The emergency regulations being considered on Thursday would impose stricter safety standards on state abortion clinics, but some say it reduces access for low-income women.
The Virginia Board of Health will vote Thursday on emergency regulations for the Commonwealth’s 22 abortion clinics. Some say the rules will improve safety for women, while others say some requirements will force many clinics to close.
The regulations are in response to a bill signed into law by Governor McDonnell earlier this year. It requires the state to draft emergency regulations to treat abortion clinics as hospitals. If approved, the regulations would go into effect December 31 and would be in place until permanent regulations are enacted.
On Thursday morning, the Virginia Board of Health heard from 32 people during a public hearing on proposed abortion clinic regulations. Opponents outnumbered supporters of the regulations by about a 2-to-1 ratio. The board is scheduled to vote on the regulations Thursday afternoon.
They're an effort to make the clinics safer, says Chris Freund of the Family Foundation of Virginia.
“The regulations cover a lot of ground, including licensing, including inspections of the facilities, including record keeping, sanitation, a lot of areas for health and safety," says Freund.
However, the regulations getting the most attention are architectural guidelines. For instance, a clinic would be required to have hallways that are at least 5 feet wide.
“If you have an emergency situation and paramedics need to get a gurney into a facility to get to someone who, say is hemorrhaging or in cardiac arrest, then you want a hallway that’s wide enough for emergency personnel to get in there," explains Freund.
Jill Abbey runs the Richmond Women’s Medical Center, which operates clinics in Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, and Newport News. She says she doesn't buy that argument.
"First of all, most patients do not go from room to room on a gurney, says Abbey. "Second of all, when we have had emergencies, we’ve simply been able to have the patients transported on a stretcher without any difficulty.”
Abbey says the new regulations are a back-handed attempt to raise the cost of abortion procedures and make them less viable for low-income women.
Abortion clinics in Virginia currently fall under the same regulations as doctor’s offices and aren’t inspected by the state health department. But the department would be charged with inspecting the clinics and enforcing the new rules if the regulations are approved Thursday.