The busiest abortion clinic in the state of Virginia has closed after a part-time Fairfax City councilmember and full-time staffer for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pushed for a last-minute ordinance to place additional restrictions on women's health clinics just as it was relocating to a new space.
Court records obtained by The Washington Post indicated that NOVA Women’s Healthcare had agreed to move out of its space on Eaton Place by mid-June after it had been sued twice by its landlord and the state passed new laws requiring clinics to have hospital-grade facilities.
NOVA located a possible new space, but the Fairfax City Council became aware of the move last week and pushed through a new zoning ordinance that reclassified clinics into the same category as medical care facilities. They had had previously been regulated had doctor's offices. The new ordinance meant that NOVA's new office would not have adequate parking.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia spokesperson Alena Yarmosky told the Post that "fact they were forced to move, that’s a testament to the barriers these providers face."
"NOVA Women’s Healthcare provided medical services to thousands of women," Yarmosky explained. It was the largest abortion provider, but thousands of women also relied on them for birth control and other health care, and they went to NOVA because they could not afford care otherwise. Now they are left without their trusted health-care provider, in part due to politicians. It’s definitely a loss."
The Fairfax City ordinance that's now standing in the way of NOVA opening its doors was supported by Councilman Steven Stombres, who has a full-time job as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor. He told the Post last week that the new rules had nothing to do with closing abortion clinics.
City staff are allowed to make decisions about doctor's offices, but Stombres believes that politicians should decide have a say about how and where medical facilities operate.
"I ran because I want to be the one that makes those decisions," he said. "I know people feel there’s another agenda here. It’s not my agenda."
At a city council meeting last week, zoning administrator Michelle Coleman was asked why doctor's offices could provide services like Lasik eye surgery, but still be exempt from the rules that were being forced upon women's health clinics.
"That’s a complementary service provided by a doctor’s office," Coleman said.
Councilmember Jeff Greenfield wanted to know if a doctor's office would need a permit to do a colonoscopy.
"I think that’s outpatient," Coleman pointed out to explain why that service was exempt.
Planned Parenthood lawyer Noah Mamber warned that "local ordinances such as these will effectively ban them from their towns, meaning these providers will be stuck and have to close and a Virginia woman needing to terminate a pregnancy will have nowhere to go."
Watch the Fairfax City Council debate the new ordinance on clinics starting at about 20:48 in the following video, uploaded on July 10, 2013.