New Virginia Legislation on the Closure of Abortion Clinics

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell recently signed into law Senate Bill No. 924, which authorizes the State Board of Health to make significant changes to regulations governing state healthcare facilities including hospitals, nursing homes, certified nursing facilities, and abortion clinics. The state senate approved the measure by a 21-20 vote, with the deciding vote being cast by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Prior to S.B. 924, clinics providing first-trimester abortions were subject to the same regulations as those that perform invasive procedures such as cataract surgery; colonoscopies; ear, nose and throat procedures; spinal taps; and dental and plastic surgery. Although the implementing regulations have yet to be written, S.B. 924 requires clinics that perform five or more first-trimester abortions monthly to meet the same health standards required of hospitals. The new law also places significant disclosure and training requirements on nursing homes. Staff will also be required arrange annual influenza vaccinations for all residents. Notably, the implementing regulations would be considered "emergency regulations," and therefore would not be subject to the normal notice or public comment requirements of Virginia's Administrative Process Act. The notice and comment process, which includes executive branch review and public comment periods, usually takes between18 and 24 months. The Board of Health will instead have an expedited schedule to issue implementing regulations. The board will develop interim regulations within 280 days, give the public two weeks to make comments, and then provide the regulations to Gov. McDonnell for final approval. Any changes that the governor makes would not be subject to review by the public or the board. Anti-abortion advocates support the legislation. Advocates of abortion rights, by contrast, contend that the law could shutter 17 of the state's 21 clinics because they would need to retrofit extensively to meet the new requirements.

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