The Virginia Board of Health succumbed to pressure from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and pro-life advocates Friday and voted to force existing abortion providers to meet stringent new standards that abortion-rights advocates said could put some of those clinics out of business.
The ruling is a complete reversal from June when the board chose to exempt existing facilities from new rules that require clinics performing five or more first-trimester abortions per month to meet the same building code requirements as newly constructed hospitals. That will include larger operating rooms, wider hallways and bigger parking lots -- potentially costly changes that abortion-rights advocates call a backdoor attempt to end legal abortion in Virginia.
ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl charged that state health officials were bowing to "right-wing bullying" and putting politics ahead of sound medical science.
"We absolutely condemn this outrageous decision by the Board of Health to prioritize politicians' political agendas over evidence-based medicine and women's health," Scholl said. "This board should be ashamed that they have ignored and shut out the voices of Virginians and the advice of countless medical and legal professionals."
Cuccinelli refused to certify the regulations in July, claiming the board did not have the authority to exempt existing facilities from the new rules. Doing so violated the General Assembly's intention when it approved tougher standards last year. Cuccinelli added pressure in recent days when he threatened not to represent the board in court if it was sued over their decision.
Since the June ruling, several board members had been replaced by Gov. Bob McDonnell, who, like Cuccinelli, is a staunch opponent of abortion. Other board members who missed the June meeting were in attendance, increasing the likelihood the June decision would be overturned.
Anti-abortion advocates immediately declared victory.
"The hysterical claims of the abortion industry that today's vote denies access to health care are simply untrue," said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation. "Today's decision simply requires the industry to clean up its act."