Action follows backlash, years of advocacy, and landmark Supreme Court ruling
Fairfax City, VA – Monday evening, women’s health advocates achieved a substantial victory when the Fairfax City Council voted unanimously to rescind its discriminatory zoning ordinance. In 2013, the Council passed an ordinance singling out abortion providers to require expensive special use permits that must be obtained through a process open to political manipulation. The local action mirrored steps taken by state politicians to subject abortion providers to sham restrictions designed to shut down clinics and end abortion access. Monday’s vote means the City of Fairfax will revert to medically appropriate classifications that treat women’s health centers akin to similar medical providers.
“Sham restrictions enacted in Virginia since 2010 have drastically reduced Virginia women’s access to safe and legal abortion services,” said Gail Deady, the Secular Society Women’s Rights Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Virginia. “The Fairfax City Council’s decision to amend their discriminatory zoning ordinance is another step forward in our fight to roll back clinic shutdown laws in Virginia and ensure women have access to quality abortion care, regardless of their income or where they live.”
“Finally, after three years of tireless advocacy from Fairfax City residents and negotiations with the council members and zoning staff, reason won the day,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “We appreciate the Council’s careful review of the City’s biased zoning ordinance of women’s health centers and its vote to reject discrimination and make the zoning process more fair and balanced. The Council’s action will help ensure more Virginia women are able to access the health care they need when they need it.”
The 2013 action removed abortion providers from the “physician’s office” zoning classification, zoned them instead just like hospitals, urgent care facilities, and ambulatory surgical centers, imposed impractical parking requirements on them, and subjected them to an onerous special use permit process that gave zoning officials discretion to blatantly discriminate against them. Partially as a result of this zoning change, NOVA Women’s Healthcare closed, and Virginia women lost yet another avenue to access abortion services and other reproductive healthcare. The 2013 amendment made it incredibly difficult for any new abortion provider to operate in Fairfax City, which is a clear effort to discriminate against those providing abortion services and the women who receive their healthcare from them.
Reproductive rights advocates worked with residents of Fairfax City, members of the Fairfax City Council, and city planning staff to repeal Fairfax City’s discriminatory zoning ordinance. On July 12, 2016, the Fairfax City Council approved changes to the zoning ordinance that recognize that abortion is one of the safest outpatient procedures performed in Virginia, and ensure that any abortion provider that wishes to open in Fairfax City will be zoned according to the actual medical services they provide, as opposed to misinformation about abortion or the political opinions of zoning officials.
“Fairfax City’s repeal of sham restrictions on abortion providers is only one step in the work to get politicians out of the doctor’s office,” said Progress Virginia executive director Anna Scholl. “This victory is great news. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision striking down clinic shutdown laws, we look forward to seeing the demise of more politically motivated restrictions on abortion access.”
“Thank you to our champions in the Council for their support.” said Noah Mamber, Legislative Consultant with Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington. “We are proud that our work pushed the Fairfax City government to do the right thing, and pass medically appropriate zoning that uses fair, standard criteria to classify abortion providers with similar uses. The momentum of Whole Women’s Health has continued in Fairfax City, and will ripple across the country to strike down unjust state and local Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws.”