Cuccinelli Ruling May Limit Abortion Providers

Abortion providers in Virginia may soon face new rules. On Monday, the state’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, issued a legal opinion declaring that the state can impose tougher, hospital-type regulations on its abortion clinics. Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro discusses the politics and the implications of the potential rules.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

We'll hear from a Louisiana photographer - talking about his images from just after Katrina and now, the oil spill. That's in a few minutes.

But first, the state of Virginia can now impose tougher, hospital-like regulations on the state's abortion clinics a determination that could lead to the closure of up to 18 of Virginia's 21 such clinics statewide. Virginia's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, issued the legal opinion this week.

With us to discuss the debate, we have Jeff Schapiro, a political reporter and columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joins us from member station WCVE in Richmond, where he also offers political analysis. Hey, Jeff, thanks for joining us.

Mr. JEFF SCHAPIRO (Political Reporter, Richmond Times-Dispatch): Thank you for having me.

KEYES: So what does this legal opinion actually mean for the abortion clinics? What would they have to do?

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Well, it would mean that the Board of Health would have the power to enact regulations to control these clinics. However, the Board of Health has not regulated these clinics since the late '80s. And many of the current members of the Board of Health - by the way, Democratic appointees, have indicated that they would have reservations about this.

KEYES: What would the clinics actually what kind of changes would the clinics actually have to make, and why are so many saying that they might have to close because of this?

Mr. SCHAPIRO: The attorney general, echoing a view expressed by his predecessor -Bob McDonnell, now the Republican governor - is that these are, in effect, hospitals, and that the standards by which they operate should be hospital like. The clinics counter that these would be extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive, and in effect put them out of business and that this - what this is all about: to make abortion as difficult as possible to obtain in Virginia.

KEYES: But if the changes are going to still comply with the Supreme Court Roe versus Wade ruling, why would this affect women's access to getting the procedure?

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Well, this is one of the questions that has come up, because now in Virginia, the shift in the abortion debate is from the legal to the regulatory and administrative. And if abortion is no longer available, or at least as readily available, as it has been, this would have the effect of making it very difficult for a number of women to terminate voluntarily terminate pregnancies, of which there are about 25,000 abortions in Virginia annually.

KEYES: Briefly, what does the State Assembly have to say about all this? Some have accused him of trying to bypass that body.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Virginia has a divided legislature: a Senate controlled by the Democrats, a House controlled by the Republicans. And it is in the Democratic-controlled House that efforts to impose these hospital-like regulations on abortion clinics have failed. That, as a result, has shifted this debate, as I indicated earlier, to the regulatory fund.

And the attorney general, Mr. Cuccinelli, is emphasizing that this option is available, and it's one that Virginia should consider. It would be left up largely to the governor, however, to ask the Board of Health to enact these regulations. And since these appointees - these Board of Health appointees are, for the most part, Democrats, and might have some reservations about this, one could anticipate a struggle, if not between the board and the governor's office, between the Board of Trustees in court and the governor's office.

KEYES: Really briefly, when does this go into effect?

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Well, it's not clear when this goes into effect. The ball is in the governor's court. It's not clear whether he is going to actually ask the board to impose these regulations.

KEYES: All right. Jeff Schapiro joined us from member station WCVE in Richmond, Virginia, where he is political analyst. He's also a columnist and political reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Thanks, Jeff, for checking in with us on this.

Mr. SCHAPIRO: Thank you.

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