Expansion is still a priority for Planned Parenthood in Virginia, despite new and tougher health regulations that Virginia abortion clinics will soon be required to meet.
State Health Commissioner Karen Remley recently gave the nonprofit a green light to add another operating room to its Virginia Beach clinic that will provide gynecological services to poor women in the area.
Dismissing concerns from her staff that the area already has an abundance of operating facilities, she overrode a Virginia Health Department ruling last year and approved an additional operating room for the abortion giant.
According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Remley said the women who would benefit from the new room "face barriers to accessing surgical services, and to maintaining continuity of care, making them unlikely to seek or obtain such services in traditional health care settings."
According to the Virginian-Pilot, the health department staff had suggested instead: "Rather than equipping new operating rooms, Planned Parenthood could maintain a list of providers who would take new low-income and uninsured patients."
During last year's public hearing, Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health System, a Catholic nonprofit hospital chain with a location in Virginia Beach, sent a letter to the Health Department on the day of Planned Parenthood's public hearing. Bon Secours said that it sent the letter because Remley approved only two of four new operating rooms it had requested, the Times-Dispatch reported.
The Family Foundation, a pro-life advocacy group, is concerned about Planned Parenthood's intended purposes of this new room.
"We hope they will use it for what they say they will use it for," said Chris Freund, vice president of the Family Foundation. "It hopefully won't be used for later term abortions."
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia center's chief executive officer told the Times-Dispatch that the center's application made no indication of utilizing the room to perform abortions. "Our application [for permission] doesn't request or refer to abortion procedures," he said.
Last fall, the Virginia Board of Health implemented a set of "emergency" standards requiring that abortion clinics performing more than five first-trimester abortions per month must adhere to the same standards as new hospitals, as well as numerous record keeping and inspection standards. The General Assembly passed these regulations into law last session.
As of yet, no clinics have been closed down because of the emergency regulations implemented, said Erik Bodin, acting director of the offices of licensure and certification for the Virginia Department of Health.
The clinics were given until the end of March to submit a complete application packet, which would then be reviewed by the Department of Health before they could receive a certificate to continue to operate. The clinics needing to make architectural adjustments would be given an additional grace period, but a plan of the corrections that the clinic intended to correct needed to have been submitted by the March deadline.
"We are in the process of doing the on-site inspections," Bodin said. "No licensure has been issued or denied."
Pro-choice advocates argue that stricter regulations put 17 out of the state's 22 clinics at risk of being shut down.
Being able to fund a new operating room indicates that Planned Parenthood has the financial means to bring the other clinics up to code, Fruend said.
"It's up to them whether they want to spend money on making them safe," said Chris Freund, vice president of the Family Foundation. "If they want to spend the money [on complying with the standards] they will. They spend a lot of money on elections."