The Virginia Board of Health voted 11-2 Friday to impose strict new regulations on abortion clinics.
The new rules require abortion providers to meet the same building standards as hospitals, including bigger parking lots, larger operating rooms and wider hallways.
Abortion-rights advocates have said the rules are unnecessary for an outpatient procedure and will cost the state's 23 clinics so much that some facilities may close. Abortion foes said the rules ensure the safety and health of women who seek abortions.
The health board's vote reversed its earlier decision to apply the new standards only to new abortion providers. That would have exempted existing clinics. But Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican candidate for governor, refused to certify those rules and insisted that existing clinics be covered.
And attempt to again exempt existing clinics was made at the board meeting, but failed.
Cuccinelli has been at the center of the debate over abortion providers and his role is expected to become an issue in this year's gubernatorial race. Democrat challenger Terry McAuliffe is already using the episode to paint Cuccinelli as an ideologue and extremist.
"Over the past two years, it's been abundantly clear that Gov. Bob McDonnell, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and their anti-choice allies were intent on manipulating the regulatory process to achieve their ultimate goal of restricting Virginians' access to safe, legal abortion care," said Caroline O'Shea, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. "What we saw today was the Board of Health succumbing to political pressure and back-room bullying from Virginia's extreme governor and attorney general."
Supporters of the tougher rules and Cuccinelli said McAuliffe is resisting a decision made by state lawmakers.
"It's an outrage that Terry McAuliffe is siding with big abortion instead of Virginia women by opposing these common sense health and safety standards," said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.