Halt closings of women's health care centers

“As governor, I'm going to get right down and start to work to make sure I stop it, so no more of these women's health centers shut down in Virginia. You have my word on that.



Speech (16:32), July 27, 2013



Work underway

During his campaign last year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe pledged to end new regulations that he said were forcing abortion clinics to close.

"As governor, I'm going to get right down and start to work to make sure I stop it, so no more of these women's health centers shut down in Virginia," the Democrat said in a July 2013 speech. "You have my word on that."

Three months earlier, the Virginia Board of Health passed rules requiring abortion clinics to adhere to building standards for hospitals. Before that, the clinics had been regulated under the general category of "physician offices." Proponents said the new standards would make facilities safer; opponents -- including McAuliffe -- said the regulations were a ruse to drive clinics out of business.

Two clinics, blaming the rules, had shut down before McAuliffe made his speech. One of them, in Fairfax City, had performed the most abortions in the state during 2011 and 2012, according to The Washington Post. It should be noted, however, that 18 other clinics in the state continue to operate.

The rules require clinics to mirror hospitals in the width of hallways, number of parking spaces, number of air exchanges used in a procedure room to keep infections from spreading and the type of handwashing sinks used by medical staff. Each clinic is required to have a plan for preventing infections that complies with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each facility must be inspected by the state Department of Health at least once every two years.

As governor, McAuliffe has taken a number of steps to blunt the regulations.

In May, he directed the Board of Health to review the standards "to ensure that those regulations guarantee Virginians' access to the centers' services."

At the same time, McAuliffe made five appointments to the 15-member Board of Health, replacing people who had been appointed by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell. McAuliffe's office said the governor selected new members "who share his commitment to women's health and support his plan to review the health center regulations."

And on Sept. 30, State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine -- a McAuliffe appointee -- decreed that the regulations should be amended, opening the door for the Board of Health to revisit the rules. She's scheduled to present specific recommendations to the Board of Health on Dec. 4.

If the board decides to move forward, the Health Department will begin a process of inviting public comment and drafting new regulations. Any changes to the rules must be approved by the board and signed by the governor.

A state law passed in 2011 says abortion clinics must be regulated as hospitals, but it leaves the board with a "fair amount" of latitude to determine how to impose the rules, according to Erik Bodin, director of the Health Department's Office of Licensure and Certification.

In the meantime, Levine has allowed each of 11 clinics that have requested relief from the existing regulations to delay their compliance until April 30.

The bottom line: Although the regulations haven't changed yet, McAuliffe has made long strides towards keeping his vow. At this juncture, we rate his promise "In the Works."


PolitiFact Virginia Promise Meter, "Halt closings of women's health care centers."

McAuliffe, speech about 16:32, July 27, 2013.

PolitiFact Virginia, "Susan B. Anthony List says new Virginia regulations put abortion clinics on par with dental offices," April 28, 2013.

Gov. McAuliffe, "Governor McAuliffe Makes Major Women's Health Announcements," May 12, 2014.

Virginia Department of Health, "Virginia State Board of Health Membership Roster," accessed Nov. 5, 2014.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Virginia health commissioner recommends amending abortion clinic regulations," Oct. 1, 2014.

Interview with Erik Bodin, director of VDH office of licensure and certification, Nov. 12, 2014.

Virginia State Code, Certain design and construction standards, accessed Nov. 12, 2014.

The Virginian-Pilot, "Norfolk abortion clinic plans to close doors," April 19. 2013.

The Washington Post, "Fairfax City abortion clinic, busiest in Virginia, closes," July 14, 2013.