HOLMBERG: Is State Board of Health breaking the law?

Posted at 11:51 PM, Jun 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-17 09:30:48-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - Late Friday afternoon, after a long, wild day, the Virginia State Board of Health voted to undermine the key controversial regulation ordered by the 2011 General Assembly to treat the state’s 20 or so abortion clinics like outpatient surgical centers.

That law required expensive physical changes to existing clinics – along with any new ones to be built – that included larger hallways and examining rooms.

The board voted seven to four to amend that regulation to grandfather the existing clinics so they are exempt from the expensive changes.

It was a surprising and highly unusual development to have the diverse board of health professionals and citizens bucking state lawmakers. The pro-abortion contingent broke into cheers after the vote.

“I’m astounded,” said board member James Edmondson Jr., one of the leaders of the pushback against the regulation, which he called “a solution looking for a problem.”

Amy Vest, a board member who voted against the grandfather amendment, said Virignia’s women “deserve better.” She carried photographs showing the condition of one abortion clinic.

The representative from the state attorney general’s office told the board they were breaking the law and exceeding their authority.

It was a wild day at the board on Mayland Drive in Henrico County.

So many protestors and abortion foes showed up, some had to leave so the boardroom wasn’t in violation of fire codes..

There were many comments – some passionate - from foes of the regulations, supporters, abortion providers, doctors and assorted other health care professionals.

One clinic operator said she had already spent $13,000 on renovations and would have to spend as much as $1.2 million if the regulations, which had a two-year phase-in period, were fully implemented.

This is far from over.

Last year, after the law passed, State Board of Health approved emergency regulations requiring existing clinics to meet the new standards as required by law. Those emergency regulations remain in effect until the end of the year. The board is tasked with tailoring new state regulation with existing state medical regulations.

There will be back and forth between the board and the attorney general’s office about the legality of the board’s unusual action. Gov. Bob McDonnell will review Friday’s events, his spokesman told the Washington Post.

It is a strange turn of events – some consider it uncharted territory.

Edmondson said it’s easily the most political regulation debated by the board as well as the most unusual turn of events he’s seen in his eight years on the board.