RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia took a big step yesterday toward eliminating most of the state’s 21 abortion clinics, approving a bill making rules so strict the medical centers would likely be forced to close, Democrats and abortion-rights supporters said.
Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, supports the measure, and when he signs it into law, Virginia will be the first state to require clinics that provide first-trimester abortions to meet the same standards as hospitals. The requirements could include structural changes such as widening hallways, increased training, and mandatory equipment the clinics do not have.
While abortion providers must be licensed in Virginia, the clinics resemble dentists’ offices.
Democrats and abortion-rights supporters said the change would put an estimated 17 of the 21 clinics out of business. Most of the clinics also provide birth control, cancer screenings, and other women’s health services.
“The women of the commonwealth are going to be the ones left to suffer,’’ said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
The bill’s supporters heralded it as a way to make the procedures safer.
“It is not about banning abortions,’’ said state Senator Jill Vogel, a Republican. “It is simply caring for women who are about to have an invasive surgical procedure and creating an environment for them where they have the opportunity to do that in a place that is safe.’’