Manassas council urges Virginia to regulate abortion clinics

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Opponents of abortion in the Manassas area scored a victory Monday when the City Council passed a resolution supporting the Virginia attorney general's August legal opinion that the state can impose stricter regulations over first-trimester abortion clinics.

"This is an important resolution," said Prince William County resident Tim Jackson, one of about 100 people who erupted in applause following the council's action. "I believe abortion should be illegal, but if it's going to be done, it needs to be regulated."

Manassas is home to Amethyst Health Center for Women, a clinic off Sudley Road that performs first-trimester abortions and has been open for more than 20 years.

"Women can go to Amethyst with great confidence, and there is no reason for Manassas City Council to call for further regulations of that clinic, and there is no need for the attorney general to call for more regulations for abortion clinics across the state," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. "The real goal of the attorney general is to make abortion care more difficult for women to access, not to make it safer."

Manassas's resolution calls on Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to direct the Virginia Board of Health to publish regulations for facilities providing first-trimester abortions and to establish qualifications for doctors who perform abortions. Passed 5 to 1, with council member Mark D. Wolfe (R) casting the dissenting vote, the resolution also says the council's position is that the Prince William Health District has a mandatory legal duty to enforce all existing and future regulations pertaining to such abortion facilities.

"Abortion is a terrible thing; almost always, abortion represents a moral failure," Wolfe said. But "being this is a state political matter, I believe it's inappropriate . . . the city, as an entity, take a stance."

Saporta said the clinic sees nearly 1,200 patients annually and is already regulated by certain organizations, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program and the National Abortion Federation, which it is a member of.

"One of the arguments is these clinics are already regulated, but I find it a little bit ludicrous that a lobbyist group for abortion rights is doing the inspections," said council member Marc T. Aveni (R). "It's not anything outrageous for a medical clinic to be [regulated]. . . . We're hopeful the governor will act upon this."

Aveni said the council has been hearing from anti-abortion advocates for years about the Manassas clinic. About two years ago, the city looked into placing regulations on the facility, he said, but officials were advised it is a state, not a local, issue. Aveni said the council is also submitting to the governor and attorney general possible regulations, including requirements that a registered nurse be present, that doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that annual inspections take place.

Haymarket resident Aaron Messier, who attended the meeting, said afterward that he has been praying at the local clinic for 10 years. He is also participating in a national campaign -- 40 Days for Life -- that draws attention to the "evil of abortion" through prayer, fasting, constant vigil and community outreach, the campaign's Web site says.

"We're just trying to save the unborn children," Messier said. "I think this is a step in the right direction. [City Council members] say they can't do anything locally, but I think they can. The regulations are to protect the mother, but we still need to protect the children."

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II's opinion was a response to requests from Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who attended Monday's council meeting, and state Sen. Ralph K. Smith (R-Roanoke), asking whether the state had the authority to regulate the facilities. The opinion applies only to first-trimester abortions, as second- and third-trimester abortions are performed in hospitals. The Board of Health regulated abortion clinics in Virginia from 1981 to 1984, when then-Gov. Charles S. Robb (D) ended the practice, according to the opinion.

"I think abortion is such a terrible thing, and we need to do as much as we can to support these women," Manassas resident Ann Chapman said, adding that she prays outside the Manassas clinic regularly on Saturdays. "If we could eliminate it, that would be the best thing, but this is a step in the right direction."

Some abortion rights organizations have said Cuccinelli is trying to circumvent the General Assembly, which has repeatedly rejected similar measures. Abortion rights advocates also said the new regulations could prompt the shutdown of 17 of the state's 21 clinics performing abortions.

Officials with the governor's office said that McDonnell is reviewing Cuccinelli's legal opinion and that it has not yet been addressed by the Board of Health.

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