- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (Photo: Associated Press)
Last month, Virginia legislators voted to pass legislation that would impose stricter regulations on the state's abortion clinics. Currently, 17 of the 21 abortion providers in Virginia fall short of the precise, hospital-style structural demands that typically result from laws like these. Four Virginia Planned Parenthood locations recently renovated their facilities in anticipation of the regulatory tightening. Once the regulations are set, the remainder of the state's providers will be forced to invest in similar time-consuming and costly structural changes in order to continue to serve patients—or face closure.
The regulatory burden could severely restrict women's abortion access in Virginia, on a temporary or permanent basis. The move could also present increased financial barriers to women seeking abortions if clinics raise the price of the procedure to defray renovation costs.
When will Virginia women begin to see these increased restrictions? The Virginia Board of Health has agreed on a tentative timeline for the regulatory roll-out:
Within 280 days of Gov. Bob McDonnell signing the bill, the Board of Health is expected to enact emergency regulations based on the legislation. According to local activists familiar with the process, the Board of Health hopes to complete research on regulations from other states that restrict abortions to certain specialized facilities by this May. By August, it will prepare draft regulations; by September, the board will review the regulations and open them for public comment. Then, the regulations will head to Gov. McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli—both advocates of strict regulations—for review. The board plans to enact the emergency regulations by Jan. 1, 2012; those will be in place for one year until more permanent regulations—with a healthier review period—are passed.
Gov. McDonnell has presented the move as an effort to cut the state's rising abortion rate—not by preventing pregnancies, but by forcing already pregnant women out of state. There's no evidence that regulatory efforts like the ones being considered in Virginia successfully result in fewer abortions, but there is evidence that abortion restrictions encourage patients to seek the procedure further afield. After Virginia's abortion rate increased 7 percent between 2005 and 2008, a Guttmacher Institute analyst suggested that the jump could be attributed to several clinic closures in nearby D.C. By forcing its own clinics to shutter under tightened regulations, Virginia could successfully move a portion of the state's abortion procedures back over the border. The move would help cut Virginia abortions on paper—and make the procedure a lot more difficult for some women.