A split Fairfax City Council amended its zoning code related to medical facilities Tuesday, dismissing arguments from pro-choice advocates that the move would further limit access to legal abortions.
The move could lump clinics that provide abortions with hospitals and surgical centers, rather than with doctors' offices, making it more costly to obtain required special use permits.
According to staff reports on the City’s website, as well as a presentation by City zoning administrator Michelle Coleman, the amendment separates medical-related facilities into two categories: One includes hospitals, urgent-care facilities and surgical centers; the other includes physician and dentist offices.
The measure passed, 4-2.
Several members of the public said they felt such a classification targeted women’s health clinics – including those that offer abortions.
Because those permits are expensive, clinics that provide safe and legal abortions will find it difficult to survive in Fairfax City, they argued.
“This really feels like the City of Fairfax’s way of passing its own TRAP law (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) against the will of its residents,” one speaker said.
When asked how the city would determine how a medical facility would be classified, city staff said certain criteria would be examined, such as the facility’s number of providers, beds, “and other factors.”
Many public speakers took issue with added phrases such as “and other factors,” saying that the language was too vague, and in the case of one speaker’s address, “duplicitous.”
One speaker, who identified himself as a lawyer, said such language “leaves it open to arbitrary discrimination by a zoning administrator with an anti-women’s health political agenda.’”
When it came time to vote, Councilmember Jeff Greenfield suggested that, if the council felt the amendment was too vague, they should defer the vote into September to allow more time to hash it out, rather than vote on it as it was.
Mayor Scott Silverthorne spoke out strongly against the idea.
At that point, he also took a moment to address the audience.
“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. I’ve seen the emails, and I’ve had to call several reporters and television reporters to address them,” he said. “This vote is not about abortion.”
Council members Ellie Schmidt and David Meyer opposed the amendment.
Council members Steve Stombres, Jeff Greenfield, Dan Drummond and Michael DeMarco voted in favor of the amendment.
What do you think of the zoning amendment passing? Tell us in the comments below.
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