Governor Bob McDonnell has appointed Dr. Cynthia Romero health commissioner of Virginia. She replaces former commissioner Dr. Karen Remley who resigned this past October. Remley stated that the new regulations for abortion clinics compromised her ability to fulfill her duties. Dr. Romero's appointment comes less than a week after McDonnell certified the controversial abortion clinic regulations. McDonnell's approval initiates a 60-day public comment period. Following that, the regulations are sent back through the process of review by the Board of Health before heading to the attorney general and executive branch agencies.
In June of last year, the Board of Health, then led by Remley, amended the regulations to "grandfather" the existing clinics, thereby keeping them from having to adhere to the stricter standards. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli refused to certify the amendment, saying that the board overstepped their authority. The following September, the Board certified the unamended regulations. The permanent regulations are expected to be adopted by this summer. Under the two-year compliance period specified by the Department of Health, Virginia's twenty existing abortion clinics will have until the end of 2014 to conform to the new regulations. Advocates worry that the new standards would cause many of the clinics to close, since most of the facilities cannot afford the costly updates needed to comply with the law. This worry puts new commissioner Romero in a unique position.
As health commissioner, Romero has the authority to step in and grant a variance to a clinic if she believes the requirements place an undue burden on it and determines that noncompliance in a certain area would not jeopardize patient safety or public health. Whether she will do that though, is far from certain. The commissioner and her board have a duty to protect health, not politics. Hopefully Romero will remember that.