Virginia Health Commissioner Quits Over Abortion Restrictions

“My ability to fulfill my duties is compromised.” posted on

Virginia’s Health Commissioner Karen Remley resigned Thursday, saying that restrictions on abortion clinics recently passed in her state have made it impossible to do her job.

The resignation caps off a battle between the state’s health board under Remley, appointed by former Democratic governor Tim Kaine, and the state’s current Republican administration.

The regulations, passed by the Virginia Board of Health last month, include minimum widths for hallways, and specific requirements for ventilation systems and covered entrances. Supporters of the new regulations say they’re necessary to protect women’s health, but opponents have charged that they’re really an effort to put clinics out of business.

In her resignation email, Remley said that the clinics would stay open: “as of today all twenty abortion facilities eligible for licensing have been inspected, plans of correction received and approved, and within the next few days all will be licensed for the coming year.” However, she said that the new restrictions had “created an environment in which my ability to fulfill my duties is compromised and I can no longer in good faith continue in my role. I have submitted my resignation from the position from State Health Commissioner effective today.”

The restrictions had touched off a protracted battle between the Virginia Board of Health and the state’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The board had initially approved the restrictions but voted to apply them only to new clinics — Cuccinelli then threatened that if they excluded existing clinics, they could be personally liable for the legal fees in any lawsuits that resulted.

McDonnell has appointed Deputy Health Commissioner Maureen Dempsey as interim Health Commissioner. He accepted Remley’s resignation in a statement that made no mention of the abortion restrictions. Former governor Kaine also released a statement on Remley’s resignation, saying, “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.” Kaine is currently running for Senate — Remley’s resignation, and the clinic restrictions more generally, could be an issue in his campaign.

Update: Cianti Stewart-Reid, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, says the clinic restrictions are “onerous” and “don’t directly affect the healthcare services being provided by our health centers.” She added, “with 18 days to go until the election, Dr. Remley’s resignation brings to forefront again that women’s health is vitally important in this election. The candidates Mitt Romney and George Allen [Kaine’s opponent in the Senate race] have dangerous policies toward women’s health.” The Virginia Society for Human Life, an anti-abortion group that praised the restrictions, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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