Virginia City Attacks Abortion Access Through Zoning Law Change

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Virginia City Attacks Abortion Access Through Zoning Law Change

Nina Liss-Schultz

The Manassas, Virginia, city council on Monday approved an ordinance that abortion access advocates say would threaten to close the city's lone abortion clinic.

The Manassas, Virginia, city council on Monday approved an ordinance that abortion access advocates say would threaten to close the city’s lone abortion clinic.

The measure would reclassify women’s health centers, among other medium-sized clinics—larger than dentist offices but smaller than hospitals—as medical care facilities. That change would require those clinics have special use permits, granted only after a public comment period and city council approval.

Opponents of the measure contend that requiring abortion clinics to get the backing of the city council, currently controlled by Republicans, will be virtually impossible, effectively prohibiting any clinics from opening or relocating within the city limits.

That could be potentially disastrous for the 18 abortion clinics in Virginia, which could be forced to relocate under a state targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law that requires clinics abide by the same architectural standards as hospitals. Though the Virginia Board of Health in December voted to amend the TRAP law, it is still technically in effect.

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All 18 clinics in Virginia have year-long waivers allowing them to exist without compliance. If the TRAP law is in effect after the year is up, clinics could be forced to relocate.

Under Manassas’ new ordinance, which will get a final, procedural vote in May, the city’s only abortion clinic, Amethyst Health Center for Women, would not be grandfathered in.

The clinic would be subject to the new regulations, however, if it needed to expand or relocate under the TRAP law. The zoning ordinance passed Monday would require that the clinic first get approval from city politicians before any renovation or relocation.

The ordinance, a version of which was introduced and rejected last year, is similar to an anti-choice law in Fairfax, Virginia. That law, passed in 2013, led to the closure of the busiest clinic in the state, NOVA Women’s Healthcare, which was trying to relocate at the time. Two months later its doors were shuttered.

Dozens of abortion-access advocates crowded the Manassas City Hall on Monday, hoping for the opportunity to speak out against the proposal. The Republican-led city council quickly called a vote, preventing any public comment period.