The Fairfax, Virginia, city council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to change the city zoning code in such a way that “medical care clinics” will be considered separate from doctors’ and dentists’ offices, a move that abortion rights advocates are concerned could make it more difficult for the city’s only abortion clinic to operate.
Under the new zoning rules, medical care clinics will require additional, expensive permits as well as approval from the zoning board to operate. The changes could make it much more difficult for Nova Women’s Healthcare in Fairfax to relocate, after the clinic’s previous landlord ended its lease early because of complaints that included the clinic “attract[ing] numerous protesters … whose presence and actions constitute an unreasonable annoyance.”
During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Fairfax Mayor Scott Silverthorne accused “outside groups” of trying to create a controversy over the zoning change. “I don’t appreciate some of the outside groups here tonight, such as NARAL [National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of Virginia], parachuting into my community and spreading misinformation,” he said, according to Fairfax Patch. “This vote is not about abortion.”
According to members of anti-choice terrorist group Operation Rescue who attended a May city council meeting to fight the clinic’s permit request, the mayor told the group that he would let them know the next time the clinic submitted a permit. (The previous permit application was withdrawn.) He said, according to Operation Rescue members, that “he would ‘go the extra step’ and make sure that the community and churches were well informed” if the clinic submitted any additional applications for permits.
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“This is a back-door means of blocking access to reproductive health care, plain and simple. While women’s health centers were previously able to comply with zoning codes ‘by right,’ they now have to undergo an expensive, subjective, and vague process in order to provide care within city limits,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in a statement. “We firmly believe that zoning laws should be objective, fair, and 100% clear.”