NOVA WOMEN’S Healthcare of Fairfax City was Virginia’s busiest abortion clinic — until a complicated matrix of local and state regulations forced it to close.
The clinic was sued twice in the past three years by its landlord, largely because of the antiabortion protesters it drew daily. When it tried to relocate, it had to contend with a slew of requirements that the Virginia General Assembly passed in 2011 and the state Board of Health approved this April, which regulate abortion clinics as though they were surgical centers and subject them to the same requirements — and even building codes — that hospitals face.
In May, local zoning officials determined that the clinic’s application for a nonresidential use permit in a new space should be denied because, of all things, the number of parking spaces it included was insufficient. Shortly thereafter, when the Fairfax City Council got wind of NOVA’s attempts to move, it amended its zoning ordinance to reclassify the clinic — and others like it — as a “medical care facility” that, as of last month, is subject to a special set of costly and cumbersome regulations.
After all of this, NOVA, a popular and privately owned women’s health clinic that offered many services besides abortion, couldn’t fight any longer. Without access to the cash flow that national organizations such as Planned Parenthood often provide in these situations, it was forced to close its doors six days after the city council’s 4 to 2 vote.
NOVA’s particular story may be complicated, but its message is clear: At virtually every level, Virginia lawmakers have waged a dishonest but effective campaign against clinics where women can exercise their constitutionally protected right to have abortions. This is most apparent in using the pretext of protecting women’s safety to justify unnecessary but burdensome requirements.
Safety should be a primary concern for abortion providers, but if that concern were genuine, lawmakers would apply it to other outpatient centers that provide procedures of similar or greater risk, such as colonoscopies or Lasik surgeries. Instead, abortion clinics are singled out.
The Fairfax City Council’s amendments to the city code say it best: The vaguely defined category of “clinics” falls under stricter scrutiny, but “Physician’s and dentist’s offices are not impacted.”
NOVA is just one provider, but it’s a perfect example of what can happen to women’s health providers in the wake of similar regulations recently enacted in states from North Carolina to Texas. Troy Newman, director of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue, praised the state and local regulations that speeded NOVA’s closure, saying, “Any measures that work, like this one, will be duplicated in other areas.” Legislators should have a higher regard for the actual safety of women and, ultimately, for the truth — and judges should not be fooled by false justifications to deprive women of their rights.