Virginia's Abortion Crackdown

| Thu Feb. 24, 2011 4:49 PM EST

The Virginia legislature on Thursday approved a bill that will regulate abortion clinics as hospitals—a move that abortion-rights advocates say make state's rules among the most restrictive in the country and could signficantly limit access to first-trimester procedures.

Currently, clinics that provide first trimester abortions are regulated like other physicians' offices that provide out-patient services, such as vasectomies or breast augmentations. Under this new law, clinics would be subject to the much more stringent rules applied to hospitals.

Via the Washington Post:

The bill's passage came as the Democratic-led state Senate voted 20 to 20 Thursday to approve the measure after a lengthy and emotional debate. The tie was broken by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who cast his vote in favor of the bill. All 18 of the chamber's Republicans backed the bill, as did two conservative Democrats.
Antiabortion activists hailed the vote as the most significant victory they've achieved in Virginia in years. Abortion rights groups said they think the regulations will place an unconstitutional burden on a woman's ability to get an abortion in Virginia, and pledged to sue.

As the reproductive health news site RH Reality Check wrote yesterday, the law would subject clinics to rules like requiring the number of parking spots to equal the number of beds (which doesn't really apply, since first-trimester abortions don't require an overnight stay). And clinics would have to make structural changes like widening their hallways so that two gurneys can pass at the same time—not insignificant burdens for these clinics, as the site reports:

The architectural costs of having to make such changes would dramatically raise the costs for clinics operating out of buildings they own and would likely be impossible for those that rent space. "Even if [those that rent] could afford to do this," said Joseph Richards, NARAL Virginia's Program and Communications Manager, "it essentially shuts them down. Seventeen of the 21 first-trimester abortion providers in Virginia would likely be forced to close due to an inability to comply with medically-unnecessary, cost-prohibitive cosmetic regulations."

Anti-abortion activists and legislators have been trying to pass a bill like this for decades, but succeeded this week by slipping it into legislation dealing with hospital policies for controlling infections.

This is the latest in an onslaught of anti-abortion bills in state legislatures around the country offered in the last month, and it's the most restrictive one to pass so far this year. Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Texas have also offered bills that would dramatically limit access to abortions.

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