In a decisive victory for women’s health and safety, the Virginia Board of Health voted overwhelmingly on September 14 to uphold commonsense abortion clinic regulations to protect women undergoing abortions. By a vote of 13-2, the Board voted in favor of permanent regulations that apply medical building code standards to all abortion facilities. This vote reversed an earlier action by the Board. In June, the Board approved an amendment to “grand­father” existing facilities, exempting approximately 20 clinics from medical building code standards. The Virginia Attorney General’s Office refused to certify the June 14 amendment, citing that the Board exceeded its authority in exempting existing abortion clinics from the building standards, a decision that properly belongs to the state legislature.

Americans United for Life has led a nationwide effort advocating for meaningful and comprehensive regulations and oversight of abortion clinics, and provided testimony before the Virginia State Board of Health in support of these groundbreaking clinic regulations to protect the health and safety of women undergoing first trimester abortions in clinics across the state. In 2011, Virginia adopted temporary abortion clinic regulations for any facilities in which five or more first trimester abortions per month are performed, holding them to standards applicable to “hospitals.”

The pervasiveness of substandard medical practices and dangerous conditions in abortion clinics across the nation is the most compelling reason for implementing and enforcing Virginia’s newly approved abortion clinic regulations.

Over the last two years, at least 15 states have initiated investigations into and even criminal prosecutions against individual abortion providers and abortion clinics for substandard medical care and practices.  In some cases, these investigations followed women’s tragic and preventable deaths.

As recently as June 2012, reports indicated that abortion clinics in Virginia have been cited for, among other problems, failing to perform background checks on staff, a lack of adequate staff training, failing to comply with medically appropriate standards for infection control, staff members’ failure to wear personal protection equipment, improper labelling and dispensing of drugs, maintaining expired medication, equipment problems, and building code violations.

Despite abortion advocates’ arguments to the contrary, these documented violations demonstrate that Virginia women have not been assured of quality care and safe conditions when they enter abortion clinics in the Commonwealth.  It is this lack of quality and medically appropriate care that the newly approved abortion clinic regulations are intended to rectify.

Importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have repeatedly recognized and supported the need for abortion clinic regulations.Virginia’s abortion clinic regulations are substantially similar to those that have been upheld in other states. They are important and necessary safeguards of women’s health and safety. With the help of the Virginia legislature, the Attorney General’s office, AUL, and a wide spectrum of pro-life supporters, women in Virginia can look forward to receiving safer medical care.