In Edmondson’s eight-year tenure as a consumer advocate on the Virginia Board of Health, he could count on one hand the number of times he’d looked up and seen even a single newspaper reporter in the room. State regulatory boards’ proceedings rarely catch the public’s eye, and the health board was no exception. The members approve most regulations unanimously; the most dramatic issue they’d handled during his time, Edmondson says, was a decision about where companies should be allowed to dump solid waste. Although the governor controls appointments to the board, Edmondson, a real-estate developer who had served on a Northern Virginia health regulatory panel for 15 years before his appointment to the state board, had no inkling of his colleagues’ political leanings. “We were regulating shellfish-packing plants,” he says. “Politics didn’t come into it.”
That was before the 2011 legislative session, when the Virginia General Assembly rammed through an 11th-hour amendment to a bill about nursing homes. The amendment subjected the state’s 21 abortion clinics, which by law could only perform first-trimester procedures, to the same health standards as hospitals—including wide corridors, sinks in every room, and customized awnings over the front door. The regulations, part of a national anti-choice strategy to shrink the number of abortion providers, were a victory for Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, who was being touted as a potential vice-presidential nominee. But the law didn’t spell out the details of the new guidelines. That task was delegated to the Board of Health.
Typically, whenever the state imposed new health-care guidelines, the board would “grandfather” existing facilities, allowing them to delay any necessary architectural changes until the next major renovation. “Our job was to work with hospitals or restaurants, or whatever it was, to keep them open,” Edmondson says. But Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general elected alongside McDonnell, told the board that because abortion providers had not previously been licensed or regulated by the Department of Health, a grandfather clause was inappropriate.
More: The Doctor Is Out