Committee OKs bill to add abortion clinic regulations

A House committee approved a bill that would hold abortion clinics to the standard of outpatient surgical centers, a move supporters say will improve patient safety but opponents say is an attempt to curtail access to abortion.

House Bill 2367, sponsored by Prince William Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District, was reported out of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee on a 13-8 vote.

The vote comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade issued Jan. 22, 1973, which made abortion legal. Bills like this are an attempt to whittle away at the right, said Bennet Greenberg, spokesman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

“All but one [clinic] facility would not meet these requirements,” he said. “Abortions would be legal in Virginia, but they would no longer be accessible.”

Abortion clinics will either have to close or upgrade for rules ranging from minimum size for surgery rooms to hallway widths, increasing the cost of abortions, he said.

He said the General Assembly is taking aim at abortion this session more than it has done in the past. On average there are eight bills on the issue, this year there are 26, he said. “It gives you an idea on how extreme things are,” he said.

The legislature still has to hear Marshall’s bill that bans partial-birth abortions, his bill requiring abortion reporting, a bill from Prince William Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st, requiring state employees to notify parents of minors treated by them for conditions caused by sex or before contraceptives are prescribed, and a bill proposed by Loudoun Delegate Richard H. Black, R-32nd, that requires parental consent for minors getting abortions.

Marshall said he knows of two women who died undergoing abortions last year. With 27,000 abortions done in Virginia annually, that is far above the national average but is not an issue for Gov. Mark R. Warner, he said.

“The governor thinks we should kill women 29 times the national average? That’s a disgrace,” he said.

Warner said he hasn’t seen the bill but will review it if it gets to his desk.

He said nothing has been brought to his attention to make him think women are in danger at abortion clinics.

Fairfax Delegate Vivian E. Watts, D-39th District, and Greenberg said that Marshall’s math is anecdotal and therefore is not accurate because the state could have had no deaths the previous year, making Marshall’s number not an accurate incidence of death.

Instead of targeting women’s reproductive health, the bill should cover all surgical procedures done in doctor’s offices and clinics, said Phyllus Bailey, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters of Virginia.

Not all abortions are surgical, particularly first-trimester ones, Watts said. She said the bill should differentiate between surgical abortions and those done through the “natural opening” of women, which do not involve cutting skin.

The state does not have additional rules on other procedures like getting wisdom teeth pulled, under anesthesia, or having a colonoscopy, where there is a danger an intestine can be punctured by the camera, she said.

Norfolk Delegate Winsome Sears, R-80th District, said the fetuses are sometimes born alive, and the equipment to resuscitate and save them must be on hand. Comparing a fetus to wisdom teeth or intestines offends her, she said.

Marshall had four bills before the committee to get more regulation of abortion clinics, and he just wanted the committee to pass one. “Whatever is best for the women, I don’t care,” he said.

Another bill he had raised the standard to that for hospitals, but it failed on an 11-10 vote.

Charlotte Delegate Clarke N. Hogan, R-60th District, voted against that first bill. “We all know what this bill is after, it has to do if people approve abortion,” he said. The legislature cannot go against Roe v. Wade, but if one day that is not the law of the land, Hogan said he would be happy to vote for it.

After a private talk with Marshall, Hogan then voted for the surgical center standard.

Hogan did not return phone messages Tuesday.

No delegates from the Prince William area sit on the committee.

The bill now goes before the full House. To become law, it must be approved by the Senate and signed by Warner.

Warner reiterated his stance that if a ban on partial-birth abortions is sent to him, he will sign it if it is constitutional, with appropriate protections for the mother. He vetoed Marshall’s bill for a ban last year on those grounds.

“What we’re seeing this year is a rush to deal with some of the social issue bills, when, lest we forget, we still have a $1.2 billion shortfall,” he said. “I really wished during this session we couldn’t do as much of that politicking” but do more to fix state government, he said, because the impetus for reform goes out the window when good economic times return.

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