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Fairfax Zoning Amendment Clashes With Abortion Rights Advocates

Fairfax City Council votes for zoning amendment that pro-choice advocates argue will limit access to legal abortions.

A woman speaks out against a zoning amendment in Fairfax City that affects medical facilities. (Photo: Jennifer van der Kleut)
A woman speaks out against a zoning amendment in Fairfax City that affects medical facilities. (Photo: Jennifer van der Kleut)

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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Shannon Duffy Daniels July 12, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Yes, Joseph Harmon, this hearing opened up the SUP process so that future applications were not subject to decisions of staff only. Members of the public who were heard were there to advocate abortion rights. I think it was confusing at best.
Catherine S. Read July 13, 2013 at 10:30 AM
This change takes PROCEDURAL decisions based on defined classifications and regulations and opens it to a VOTE by elected officials as to their subjective opinion based on "undefined" non-regulated factors such as . . . complaints by people who object to having a "medical facility" in their own backyard. I go back to the struggle over The Lamb Center and the lengths to which the City was willing to go (to the Supreme Court of Virginia) over zoning issues for a facility that caused great contention in this city. Handing over to a VOTE of elected officials the decision as to what is or is NOT a particular kind of "medical facility" almost insures that pressure from the "voters" who pack the council chambers will result in the "Not In My Back Yard" crowd pressuring their elected representatives to deny that special use permit on whatever vague undefined grounds the council sees fit to use: noise, traffic, parking . . . potential protestors. There is a movement across this country - in states and in the federal government - to bar women from exercising their Constitutional right to access a particular type of healthcare service. TRAP legislation is designed to close facilities and basically eliminate provision of these services as the alternative to rolling back Roe v Wade. And it's been successful. Every single day more restrictive legislation is passed. To say there is "no connection" between what is happening all around us and the Council's vote to grant itself the power to decide what is a "medical facility" and whether a "special use permit" will granted is to turn a blind eye to reality. You only have to look at the history of the Lamb Center and the players involved in that ongoing struggle to forecast what the future will be for any "medical facility" seeking a "special use permit" from City Council.
Patrick Le Floch July 13, 2013 at 10:43 AM
FYI SUP=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_Urban_Planning
Catherine S. Read July 13, 2013 at 11:06 AM
SUP = Special Use Permit
ACS July 23, 2013 at 12:57 PM
Oh my goodness... I will NOT allow this one vote to define our fine councilmen and woman. The City of Fairfax is a wonderful blend of small town within a big metropolis. Our elected officials live within the City, send the kids to the schools within the City and are members of the community. They make decisions based on the best interest of the City and their neighbors. I offer those who are now turning their backs on these officials to look back over their voting record and see ALL of the great accomplishments from urban planning, to utilities, to the schools and infrastructure, etc... And also keep in mind that this vote was made not on abortion rights but on City citizen's rights to have a say in businesses that come into the City.

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