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By Sean Gorman April 28, 2013

Susan B. Anthony List says new Virginia regulations put abortion clinics on par with dental offices

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s opposition to stricter regulation of abortion  clinics has drawn fire.

Women Speak Out Virginia, a PAC affiliated with the Susan B. Anthony List that seeks to end abortion, is airing a radio ad that criticizes McAuliffe for opposing what it said are "common ground abortion center health and safety standards."

"McAuliffe refuses to require women’s health clinics to provide the same sanitary environment we expect of dental offices and hospitals," the narrator says.

We were well aware that controversial regulations approved by the Virginia Department of Health on April 12 will require abortion clinics to adhere to the building standards for hospitals. Proponents said the new rules would make abortion clinics safer; opponents said the regulations were a ruse to put the clinics out of business.

But this is the first time we’ve heard the claim that the rules would require the clinics to provide the same sanitary standards expected of dental offices. So we decided to see if this is the case.

We asked Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the PAC and the Susan B. Anthony List, for proof of the ad’s claim. She provided no facts. "We -- meaning Virginia women -- expect a safe, sanitary environment inside abortion clinics, places that should be regulated at least as strict as dental offices and in fact, even stricter -- like hospitals -- which are mentioned immediately after that," she wrote in an email.

The ad implies that prior to the new regulations, abortion clinics were allowed to operate at lower sanitary standards than dental offices. There’s no evidence to support that. They were treated pretty much the same.

Before the change, neither abortions clinics nor dental offices were regulated by the Virginia Department of Health, according to Erik Bodin, the department’s director of the office of licensure and certification.

The doctors and dentists were under the purview of the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which licenses medical practitioners. The department only inspected the cleanliness of a physician’s or dentist’s office if there had been a complaint.

In the case of a dentist’s office, an inspector would be required to fill out a form evaluating the cleanliness of the facility, the disposal of needles, the sterilization of equipment and surfaces.

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The findings are sent to the Board of Dentistry, which can revoke the license of a dentist who endangers public welfare.

Up until the rule change, abortion clinics were regulated under the general category of "physician’s offices." The Board of Medicine does not have specific regulations regarding sanitary standards in a doctor’s office, according to Diane Powers, spokeswoman for the Department of Health Professions. The board looks into complaints and may revoke licenses of physicians who provide "an unsanitary office environment," Powers said.

So what’s changed under the new regulations?

Nothing for dental offices.

But it’s a whole new world for abortion clinics, which now fall under the Department of Health.

The clinics will have to meet certain building standards for new hospitals regulating the width of hallways, the number of parking spaces, the number of air exchanges used in a procedure room to keep infections from spreading and the type of hand washing 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 will be inspected by the state Department of Health at least once every two years.

Our ruling

A PAC affiliated with the Susan B. Anthony List says in an ad that McAuliffe opposed new regulations that would "require women’s health clinics to provide the same sanitary environment we expect of dental offices."

McAuliffe did oppose new regulations that were approved for abortion clinics earlier this month. But it is ridiculous to imply that these rules elevate the sanitary standards for clinics to those of dental offices.

Abortion clinics will be held to hospital building codes, must comply with with federal guidelines for infection prevention and will be inspected at least once every two years. Dental offices do not have to meet any of these guidelines and will continue to be inspected only in response to a complaint.

Without any evidence, the PAC has launched a misleading ad that trivializes very significant and polarizing changes Virginia has made to the way it regulates abortion clinics.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Susan B. Anthony List, "McAuliffe targeted by VA Women’s PAC ad campaign,"

E-mails from Mallory Quigley, April 23, 2013.

Interviews with Erik Bodin, the Virginia Department of Health’s director of the office of licensure and certification, April 24-26.

E-mail from Maribeth Brewster, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health, April 24, 2013.

E-mails from Diane Powers, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health Professions, April 24-25, 2013.

Virginia Board of Dentistry inspection form, accessed April 24, 2013.

Virginia Board of Dentistry, "Laws and regulations," accessed April 24, 2013.

Virginia Department of Health, "Regulations for licensure of abortion facilities," April 12, 2013.

Virginia Department of Health Professions,"The disciplinary process for licensed health professionals," accessed April 26, 2013.

E-mail from Josh Schwerin, spokesman for the Terry McAuliffe campaign, April 26, 2013.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Anti-abortion group buys radio time attacking McAuliffe," April 24, 2013.

Richmond Times-Dispatch,"Board approves stricter building rules for abortion clinics,  April 16, 2013.

The Washington Post, "Va. Board approves strict abortion clinic rules," April 12, 2013.

The New York Times, "Virginia abortion clinic rules get final approval,"  April 12, 2013.

The Virginian Pilot, "Abortion provider plans to close doors," April 19, 2013.

Legislative Information Services, SB 924, March 26, 2011.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, Draft of abortion rules goes public Friday," Aug. 25, 2011.

The Washington Post, "Virginia assembly says abortion clinics should be regulated as hospitals," Feb. 25, 2011.

The Virginian Pilot, "Planned rules called ‘an attack,’" Aug. 30, 2011.

The Virginian-Pilot, "Bill to tighten rules for abortion clinics advances," Jan. 21, 2011.

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Susan B. Anthony List says new Virginia regulations put abortion clinics on par with dental offices

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