The Virginia Board of Health passed the most severe abortion clinic regulations in the nation on Thursday, which health advocates say could effectively close down all 22 abortion providers in the state.
The regulations, commissioned by the state legislature and written by the Virginia Department of Health, are largely unrelated to patient health and safety. They would treat abortion clinics as if they are hospitals if the clinics provide five or more first-trimester abortions a month and would enforce architectural design standards that will be almost impossible for most clinics to meet.
For instance, a clinic must have 5-foot-wide hallways, 8-foot-wide areas outside of procedure rooms, specific numbers of toilets and types of sinks and all of the latest requirements for air circulation flow and electrical wiring. Each clinic must also have a parking spot for every bed, despite the fact that first-trimester abortions don't require an overnight stay. Further, Department of Health employees will be allowed to enter an abortion facility at any time without notice or identification.
Virginia Board of Health member Jim Edmundson tried to introduce a number of amendments on Thursday that would lessen the severity of the clinic restrictions and give some facilities a chance to comply. However, all but one of the amendments were rejected without a vote. For instance, he tried to distinguish between first-trimester surgical abortions and first-trimester medication abortions, so that the regulations would only apply to surgical procedures, but the amendment was not even seconded.
"The board is not even seconding proposed amendments being offered," said Patrick Hurd, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeast Virginia, who observed the comment and voting process in Richmond on Thursday. "They're so intimidated by the presence of the attorney general, they're not even allowing these things to come up for a vote."
Health advocates say they are worried that women in Virginia could lose all access to abortions as a result of the new rules, which are scheduled go into effect by Jan. 1.
"Right now, none of our facilities would be in compliance with these regulations," said Paulette McElwain, president and CEO of the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood, which has five clinics in the state that provide abortions.
Hurd told HuffPost that his one clinic that provides abortions would have to undergo "substantial and costly renovations" to comply with the new rules.
"I'm just amazed by their unrealistic and draconian views of how we're gonna transition from a doctor's office that provides abortions to a surgical center," he said. "For us, the regulations are gonna be unduly burdensome and onerous, and they don't reflect what's necessary for patient safety. For others, it sets the stage for the closure of some high-quality health care centers."
One major unintended consequence of these regulations is that if Planned Parenthood clinics and other health clinics that provide abortions are forced to shut down, they will be taking all of their other services with them, such as affordable pap smears, breast exams and birth control for low-income men and women.
State Sen. Ryan McDougle (R), the sponsor of the bill who directed the health department to draft the regulations, said the purpose of the bill "is to make sure that all medical procedures are done in a safe manner." However, there are no other types of outpatient facilities that are being regulated as extensively as abortion providers, and according to the Virginia Department of Health, the first-trimester abortion procedure is already as safe as it possibly can be. Between 1999 and 2009, there was only one abortion-related death, compared with 11 deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the year 2009 alone.
"It's just utterly ridiculous, the regulations have nothing to do with patient health and safety," said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. "This is just an overreach to the nth degree."
The temporary regulations are being sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell for review. If he approves them, they will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012, for one year, after which they will be replaced by permanent regulations.
WASHINGTON -- Michele Bachmann may have given Rick Perry some cover from the HPV vaccine issue in the national media, but as the Texas governor arrives in Iowa on Thursday, conservatives in the first-in-the-nation caucus state still have doubts and questions about Perry, on that issue and others.
Perry's record on the HPV vaccine is "not going to play well," said Bob Vander Plaats, an Iowa conservative leader.
Craig Robinson, a former Iowa Republican Party official who is now a full-time political blogger, wrote Thursday that Perry's 2007 mandate that sixth-grade girls be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus is not likely to fade in voters' minds, largely because it raises significant questions about who Perry is at his core.
"What the debate over Perry's HPV mandate has really done is brought in to question Perry's character and convictions," wrote Robinson on his blog, The Iowa Republican. "That is why the HPV issue has gained more traction and attention in recent weeks than Perry's comments about social security. Perry may want to put this issue to bed, but by the looks of things, his proposed HPV mandate could haunt him throughout the nominating process."
As one Tea Party activist, Kathy Carley of Des Moines, put it recently: "He's not what he appears."
Vander Plaats told HuffPost in an interview that if Perry wants to put the HPV issue to rest, he needs to apologize, face to face with Iowa voters, and explain that he was wrong. Period.
"Perry needs to get out here. He needs to clear it up. He needs to take the time it takes, whether it's in a diner or some large group setting," Vander Plaats said.
"What he needs to do is, instead of offering an excuse, just say, 'I would have done it differently.' Just be honest and transparent. If people find that trustworthy, I think you're okay. But if you feel like you're still hedging on some things, I think it's going to be more of a problem."
Perry has begun to take a more conciliatory approach. On Wednesday, in Richmond, he still offered up a rationale for what he did -- he said he wants to prevent cancer -- but put far less emphasis on defending his decision than he did in his first two presidential primary debates.
Perry's altruism defense may not wash with many conservatives, who could see his bleeding-heart rhetoric as a betrayal of his limited government ethos.
"In an election cycle that is being framed by President Obama's health care program, Perry is advocating for government solutions when it comes to health care, not the empowerment of individuals," Robinson wrote.
Perry has been all over the map in explaining his decision to mandate the vaccine .
When he first entered the race in mid-August, he faced questions about the Texas vaccine mandate, and stated that he should have worked with the legislature rather than use an executive order. He then went one step further and added that families should have been allowed to opt in, rather simplying being offered an opt-out provision.
But in both GOP debates over the past week, Perry pointed to the opt-out clause as a positive component of the executive order he signed.
"I don't know what's more strong for parental rights than having that opt-out," Perry said at his first debate in Simi Valley, Calif., last week.
Asked directly on Monday night, during his second debate in Tampa, Fla., whether the executive order he signed amounted to a mandate, Perry said it was not -- because of the opt-out provision.
"No, sir it wasn't. It was very clear. It had an opt-out," Perry said.
Then on Wednesday, Perry was back to stating that he should have had an opt-in instead of an opt-out.
Perry will have plenty of chances to apologize on a trip that will take him to central Iowa on Thursday evening and Friday morning, followed by two stops in the western portion of the state on Friday afternoon. Polling so far in the state has been limited. Two polls taken a week or so after Perry joined the race showed him with a small lead of two and three points, respectively, and a Rasmussen poll taken at the end of August gave him an 11-point edge over the rest of the GOP 2012 field.
Another social conservative leader in Iowa said he thought Perry could clear the HPV vaccine issue up.
"He has said that it could have been handled differently. If he can do that and convince people that it was probably not the proper decision then I think a lot of people probably can say, 'He thinks he made a mistake,' and go on," said the leader, who asked not to be identified.
Bob Haus, a longtime Iowa operative who is co-chairing Perry's campaign in the state, signaled that Perry will seek to keep his focus on the economy and his job creation record in Texas.
"Iowa voters have responded very well to his economic message and his conservative message in Texas, and I think they'll continue to respond well to that going forward," Haus said.
Even though Bachmann, the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, was the one who ripped Perry the hardest at the presidential primary debate in Tampa on Monday, her former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, downplayed the HPV issue in an interview with HuffPost on Wednesday.
"It's a one- or two-day story," said Rollins, who is still an unpaid senior adviser to Bachmann, in what came across as an attempt to minimize Bachmann's remarks after the debate that the vaccine might cause "mental retardation."
"I don't think it's one that we'll hit the drum on," Rollins said of the Bachmann campaign. "If there's more on the cronyism, which I think there is, that's where you go make your case."
Rollins criticized Bachmann's comment even more openly in an appearance on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon, saying the candidate is "an emotional woman" and that she had made a "mistake."
But the HPV issue is still an open door Bachmann can walk through to talk about Perry's use of taxpayer funds and appointment of donors to government posts during his decade in the Texas governor's mansion.
The HPV mandate has raised questions about whether Perry took action to benefit a friend and has led to the charges of cronyism Rollins mentioned. Perry's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for drug maker Merck when Perry issued the executive order mandating the vaccine in 2007. Merck has given Perry $29,500 in direct contributions since he became governor in 2000, and the company gave $377,000 to the Republican Governors Association when Perry was vice-chair and later chairman.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the RGA has given Perry at least $4 million over the past five years. And Texans For Public Justice, a watchdog group, reported this week that a third of the $217 million taken in by the RGA over the past five years came from 139 donors who have also given to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns.
Perry also misstated during the Tampa debate that Merck gave him $5,000, apparently referring to his 2006 reelection campaign, when in fact the drug company gave him $6,000 during that cycle. He also failed to mention that from the time he became governor to 2007, when the HPV order was issued, Merck gave him a total of $22,000.
Beyond the HPV vaccine controversy, Perry has more obstacles to clear with grassroots conservatives and Tea Party Republicans. His moderate stance on immigration, in particular, troubles many.
So does Perry's past support for a toll-road super highway known as the Trans-Texas Corridor that would have run from the Mexican border through Texas to Oklahoma. One concern raised about the project was that Perry's former legislative director, Dan Shelley, worked for the Spanish-owned development company that Perry awarded the development rights. The project was eventually scrapped due to strong opposition from voters, interest groups and lawmakers.
Vander Plaats mentioned that Perry's endorsement of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for president in 2008 also raises a red flag because of Giuliani's support for gay marriage and abortion rights.
"He hasn't been vetted so far," Vander Plaats said.
Tyler Kingkade contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican on Thursday will call on a special congressional committee to consider tax reform that would close loopholes but not raise rates as part of its bid to cut the deficit, an aide said.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner also will say in a speech that the "super committee" should consider changes to benefits programs like Medicare and Social Security, according to a summary provided by his office, the aide said.
In addition, Boehner will deliver what promises to be the most comprehensive Republican response yet to President Barack Obama's proposed $447 billion jobs creation plan. Republicans so far have said they could accept some elements of that plan but have rejected the tax increases that Obama has proposed to pay for it.
Boehner will argue that Republicans and Democrats should work together to reduce business regulations and lower taxes and spending to boost job creation and economic growth, according to his office.
Boehner is due to deliver the speech at 1 p.m. EDT at the Economic Club of Washington.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Thomas Ferraro; editing by Vicki Allen)