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NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia asks McDonnell not to further regulate abortion clinics

Anita Kumar

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia is calling on Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) not to instruct the state Board of Health to further regulate clinics that perform abortions despite a legal opinion last month by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that concludes he can do just that.

In a letter to McDonnell dated Tuesday, the group's executive director, Tarina Keene, writes that NARAL is prepared to take legal action if necessary.

"We ask you to consider the long-term ramifications of this sort of targeted regulation,'' she writes. "Forcing physician's offices to comply with hospital licensure and regulation could lead to closure of these offices, resulting in making healthcare harder to obtain, the loss of safe, high-quality, and affordable health care for Virginia residents, and hundreds of job cuts."

On Aug. 20, Cuccinelli concluded that the Board of Health could require that clinics that perform abortions meet hospital-type standards, a move abortion rights advocates say could force some facilities to close. Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), who requested the opinion, wrote McDonnell to ask him to implement the regulations, but the governor did not immediately respond.

(Read more about Cuccinelli's and Marshall's unique relationship when it comes to the request for legal opinions.)

Last month, McDonnell officials said they were reviewing the opinion. Today, McDonnell spokeswoman Stacey Johnson said they were still doing so and declined to comment further.

In his legal opinion, Cuccinelli concluded that the Board of Health, which regulates hospitals and nursing homes, has the authority to write new regulations requiring that doctors who perform abortions at the clinics hold hospital privileges, counselors have professional training and buildings undergo structural changes.

The 15-member board is appointed by the governor. Eleven board members were named by former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). McDonnell recently appointed four members.

Regulatory changes to the Board of Health generally take up to two years to implement after public hearings and consultation with the governor's office and secretary of health.

"We recognize that the Commonwealth has the authority to regulate abortion facilities, just as it regulates all physicians' offices,'' Keene wrote in her letter. "We remain unconvinced that the legislature has ceded regulatory authority over first trimester abortion providers to the BOH, and question whether singling out abortion providers from other doctors' offices without a rational basis violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment."

The opinion applies only to first-trimester abortions. Second- and third-trimester abortions are performed in hospitals.

By Anita Kumar  | September 22, 2010; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, Ken Cuccinelli, Robert F. McDonnell  
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