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A.G.: Va. can tighten abortion oversight

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Virginia’s government is able to enforce stronger restrictions on abortion clinics in the state, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says.

Cuccinelli’s Aug. 20 legal analysis was a setback for abortion providers, but an advance for pro-lifers who have long sought to hold abortion clinics to standards they believe are required for a procedure that not only takes the lives of unborn babies but results in injury and death to an unknown number of women.

The opinion permits, but does not require, the state’s Board of Health to issue regulations on abortion clinics that would be similar to those mandated for hospitals.

Responding to requests from two state senators, Cuccinelli, a Republican, concluded in his opinion that Virginia “has the authority to promulgate regulations for facilities in which first trimester abortions are performed as well as providers of first trimester abortions, so long as the regulations adhere to constitutional limitations.”

Abortion providers expressed concern many of the state’s clinics will be unable to afford the changes that could be required if the regulations outlined by Cuccinelli are enforced. NARAL Pro-choice Virginia said 17 of the state’s 21 abortion clinics likely would close under such a scenario.

“These so called regulations are only an attempt to shut down abortion clinics” in Virginia, said Tarina Keene, NARAL Pro-choice Virginia’s executive director, according to The Washington Post.

One of the senators who sought Cuccinelli’s opinion, Republican Sen. Ralph Smith of Roanoke, was quoted in The Post as saying the attorney general’s guidance “clarifies any legal questions on the issue and sets the stage for regulating abortion clinics like other medical facilities.”

Abortion clinics are regulated the same as offices for oral or plastic surgery, according to the newspaper. Pro-life members of the legislature have sought but failed to pass bills for several years that would require abortion clinics to abide by mandates similar to those now placed on hospitals.

“The state has long regulated outpatient surgical facilities and personnel to ensure a certain level of protection for patients. There is no reason to hold facilities providing abortion services to any lesser standard for their patients,” Brian Gottstein, the attorney general’s director of communications said in a statement.

In his opinion, Cuccinelli relied in part on a 2000 decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. That ruling upheld a South Carolina law that regulated abortion clinics regarding such subjects as licensing, equipment, reporting, emergency plans and construction requirements.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.