“While this has been the most fulfilling and challenging role I have ever been in, I can no longer in good faith continue my duties as Commissioner,” she wrote in an e-mail to colleagues and professional organizations.
As commissioner, Remley was the governor’s chief adviser on matters of public health, overseeing the Virginia Department of Health, an agency with an annual budget of $621 million and about 4,000 employees.
Her departure provoked an outcry among the medical community and abortion rights groups.
“The fact that she feels so compromised by undue political pressure — it’s stunning,” said Dr. Wendy Klein, an internist and retired Virginia Commonwealth University medical professor who has spoken against the building rules. “It also makes us that much more vulnerable to the social agenda of the McDonnell administration.”
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who reappointed Remley to the job his Democratic predecessor first hired her for, issued a written statement that thanked Remley for her service but did not address the issue that prompted her resignation.
“As Commissioner, she served two governors from two different parties, and all the citizens of Virginia, with constant professionalism, intellect and dedication,” he said. “She was a tireless public servant, and we will miss her in the Administration.”
Remley’s resignation provided instant fodder in the U.S. Senate race between former governors Timothy M. Kaine, the abortion rights Democrat who first appointed Remley, and George Allen, a Republican opposed to abortion. Just 90 minutes after Remley hit “send” on her resignation e-mail, and three hours before he was to debate Allen in Blacksburg, Kaine was out with an e-mail of his own.
“It’s unfortunate that a political focus on limiting women’s access to health care has prompted her resignation after many years of diligent and faithful service to the Commonwealth,” said Kaine, who has pushed “women’s issues” throughout his campaign.
Allen’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Victoria Cobb, president of the conservative Family Foundation, which has argued that the building standards will protect women’s health, said the timing of Remley’s departure “reeks of political posturing.” She said in a statement that Kaine and President Obama were “desperately trying to wrap themselves around abortion in the misguided belief it will save their campaigns.”
Dr. Maureen Dempsey, the department’s deputy commissioner, will serve as interim commissioner. She is the former director of the Missouri State Department of Health and Senior Services.