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Herring: Existing Va. abortion clinics can be exempt from new regulations

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Posted at 7:26 PM, May 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-05 06:33:20-04

RICHMOND, Va. — An update on the battle over Virginia’s abortion clinic rules. Attorney General Mark Herring issued a formal opinion Monday, which said that existing women’s health clinics should not have to meet strict new building standards imposed by the State Board of Health in 2013.

Last year Gov. Terry McAullife ordered a review of the regulations. Those rules tightened licensing standards for abortion clinics, making them follow guidelines similar to those used at hospitals.

Supporters said the regulations protect the health and safety of women. Opponents call it an effort to force those clinics to close.

Since the legislation was enacted in July 2013, three of 21 women’s health centers in Virginia have closed or stopped offering abortion services, in part, due to regulations, according to Planned Parenthood.

“These regulations were designed not to keep Virginia women safe, but to limit their constitutional right to make their own decisions,” McAuliffe said in a statement Monday. “I have pledged to prevent any further political effort to limit women’s access to health care, and I am committed to ensuring that Virginia is in the business of expanding access to safe and affordable care, not limiting it.”

The Board of Health will review proposed changes to those rules during a meeting on June 4. Herring’s formal opinion states that the Board of Health does not have the authority to require existing women’s health centers to comply with new regulations.

The issue proved to be so divisive in 2013 that former State Health Commissioner Karen Remley resigned. She said she felt the new regulations made it impossible for her to do her job.

“I couldn’t tell them to stand up for what they think is right if I didn’t do it myself,” Remley told the Virginia Pilot.

Meetings held leading up to the 2013 vote prompted large turnouts from people on both sides of the issue.