F.C.-Based Women’s Health Clinic Files Appeal Vs. Prohibitive Rules

Falls Church Healthcare Center filed a petition for appeal last week against the Virginia State Board of Health stating that new building codes affecting abortion clinics, newly adopted by the Virginia State Board of Health and approved by Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinellli, are “arbitrary and capricious” and lack grounding in appropriate medical and public health standards. The appeal was filed June 10 in the Arlington Circuit Court and with the State Board.

The new regulations require any facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month to meet building standards on the level of a full-scale hospital, as opposed to outpatient clinic.

The 40-page petition appeals the new rules, stating they exceed the dictate given to the Board by the General Assembly in 2011. That legislation, according to the appeal, states that “minimum construction and maintenance standards” be promulgated for clinics that provide five or more first-trimester abortions per month.

But acting on that legislation, the Board of Health adopted new regulations requiring extensive changes to clinics, such as widening hallways, providing staff showers, and increasing the number of parking spaces, among others.

The appeal by the Falls Church Center states that the “prohibitively expensive” changes to its facility are estimated at $447 per square foot of the 5,000-square-foot clinic, and that moving to a new clinic could cost Falls Church Healthcare Center $60,000 to $80,000 more in rent per month.

“The intent behind these regulations are to close these facilities,” former Falls Church City Manager David Lasso told the News-Press. Lasso, who, as an attorney with the Venable law firm of Tysons Corner, is part of the legal team, including Venable’s Steve Swart, representing Falls Church Healthcare Center in its appeal.

A press release issued about the appeal stated, “Falls Church Healthcare objects to regulations that impose physical and administrative standards that are not grounded in medical need or sound medical practices and are inappropriate for out-patient care especially when provided in a doctor’s office.”

The Falls Church Healtcare Center is described as “a community and faith-based women’s healthcare center…a full-service gynecological and obstetrics medical facility…providing safe and affordable medical care since 2002.” It adds that the center “has never had a medical issue arise that would have been avoided because of the new physical or administrative rules included in the the Amended Regulations.” As a small business, it is oly of only 19 medical facilities in Virginia providing first trimester abortion care.

The new, prohibitive regulations “are an example of government overreach intended to run these facilities out of business,” Lasso said.

That view echoed charges by Democrats in the Virginia state legislature who opposed the establishment the GOP-backed legislation that allowed for the formation of the prohibitive new standards in 2011, one of a number of initiatives by Republicans in Richmond to restrict the rights of women in the last few years..

For more than a decade, the S. Washington Street facility in Falls Church has provided gynecological and obstetric medical care to women, including abortions. Its clients include women with no insurance and low incomes. Falls Church center, after meeting Emergency Regulations adopted by the state Board of Health in 2011, following passage by the legislature and approval by the governor and attorney general of new construction and maintenance standards, gained a license to continue to operations as an abortion facility valid through April 30, 2014, and is still seeing patients.