RICHMOND — Virginia’s health commissioner abruptly stepped down Thursday over proposed new regulations that would require abortion facilities to meet strict, hospital-style building standards that many clinics say would put them out of business.
In her resignation letter, Karen Remley, a pediatrician first appointed by then-governor Timothy M. Kaine in 2008, said: “Unfortunately, how specific sections of the Virginia Code pertaining to the development and enforcement of these regulations have been and continue to be interpreted has created an environment in which my ability to fulfill my duties is compromised and in good faith I can no longer serve in my role.”
The abortion regulations have sparked controversy among members of the state’s Board of Health, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, both Republicans.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, McDonnell thanked Remley for her service to the state.
“As Commissioner, she served two governors from two different parties, and all the citizens of Virginia, with constant professionalism, intellect and dedication,” McDonnell said. “She was a tireless public servant, and we will miss her in the Administration. I wish Dr. Remley the very best moving forward, and know she will continue to play a leading role in healthcare in Virginia in the years ahead.”
Maureen Dempsey, deputy commissioner of the Department of Health, will serve as interim commissioner. She is the former director of the Missouri State Department of Health and Senior Services.
State lawmakers voted last year to require the guidelines, which were adopted by the state’s Board of Health. Board members later exempted the state’s existing clinics. But Cuccinelli did not sign off on the board’s decision, saying the panel was not legally authorized to exclude the operating clinics.
Cuccinelli’s legal opinion has led to confusion among many of those who lead the state’s clinics that perform abortions.