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Requirements loosened for Va. abortion facilities

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Virginia’s State Board of Health voted Sept. 17 to weaken abortion facility regulations instituted four years ago. The move sends the state on a trajectory opposite that of others that are responding to allegations of illegal activity in undercover videos from the Center for Medical Progress.

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe promised to be a “brick wall” for abortion rights during his campaign and has systematically replaced members of the Virginia board with abortion supporters. Eight of the 15 board members are McAuliffe appointees.

The pro-abortion amendments to the regulations passed by a 9-6 vote. Pro-life board members introduced amendments that would have strengthened the regulations, but none passed.

“Today’s vote is an enormous step forward in the fight to get extreme politics out of decisions that should be between women and their doctors,” McAuliffe said about the Sept. 17 vote. “I applaud the Board of Health for ending this disturbing chapter in our history and for heeding the advice of experts, medical professionals, and Virginia women about the best way to provide safe access to health care.”

The amendment exempts 17 abortion facilities from the hospital building standards requirement. State Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion earlier this year stating the standards didn’t apply to facilities that existed when the regulation passed. The regulations addressed building and equipment standards, sanitation, and staff training.

Other weakened regulations included guidelines on anesthesia, a post-abortion counseling requirement, sexually transmitted disease screenings, and emergency transfer agreements with hospitals.

Two of Virginia’s abortion facilities closed after the regulations passed in 2011, leaving the current 17 facilities. Abortion advocates claim the regulations were intended to shut down facilities, but pro-lifers maintain the rules protect women.

“The nearly $2 million given to Gov. McAuliffe’s campaign by the abortion industry bought the majority vote of the Virginia Board of Health,” said Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation. “This board eliminated very critical components to protecting the women of Virginia.”

While Virginia is rolling back abortion facility regulations, other states are taking a closer look at abortion facility practices in response to the Center for Medical Progress’s undercover videos.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initiated an investigation into the state’s Planned Parenthood facilities in July. Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered three abortion facilities to stop performing second-trimester abortions after a July investigation found they lacked the proper licenses. In September, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control suspended the licenses of two facilities for a variety of violations including improper disposal of fetal remains. Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and New Hampshire have revoked Planned Parenthood funding.

Virginia’s deregulation amendments won’t take effect immediately. They will undergo another public comment period, review by McAuliffe and Herring, and a final board vote, a process that could take months.