Tell Manassas: Don’t Discriminate Against Women’s Health Centers!

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Last March, women in Northern Virginia breathed a sign of relief when the Manassas City Council voted 4-2 to defeat a copycat TRAP proposal introduced by anti-choice councilman Marc Aveni.

If you’ll recall, Aveni has been on a mission to regulate and restrict the city’s lone abortion clinic since coming to office in 2006. In October 2014, the councilman and his troop of anti-choice crusaders introduced a motion that would require abortion clinics to obtain a special use permit and city council approval before opening facilities in Manassas. The measure would have made it disproportionally difficult for abortion providers to operate within city limits.

As mentioned, Aveni’s efforts were–thankfully– defeated, but not without future challenge. Instead, the Manassas City Council decided to review and move forward with a comprehensive update the city’s current zoning laws, which brings us to today.

After a year of review, the Manassas City Council will vote on amendments to its zoning regulations– amendments that would blatantly discriminate against abortion clinics and affect the future of such facilities within Manassas city limits.

Putting aside the boring world of city zoning and land ordinances, here’s what you need to know:

The proposed zoning update directly attacks women’s healthcare centers. Period.

The Manassas zoning update treats women’s health centers differently from doctors’ and dentists’ offices (where the same level of outpatient procedures are performed) just because they provide abortion services. This is purposeful discrimination by politicians, and it places extra burdens on abortion providers.

Abortion is constitutionally protected, extremely safe, and routine procedure – and all facilities (including women’s health centers, dentist’s offices and doctor’s offices) performing similar, non-invasive outpatient procedures should be treated alike. Singling out women’s health centers because they might provide abortion services is simply discriminatory and not grounded in medical reality.

Not only would the proposed zoning update discriminate against local women’s health centers, but it would also require some abortion providers to obtain a burdensome Special Use Permit in several areas of the city.

A special use permit politicizes zoning decisions and requires a process full of hurdles, including application fees, legal fees related to filing, a public hearing and staff review, and approval by politicians on the City Council. If subject to Special Use Permits, women’s health centers would need to apply, pay a fee and persuade the highly political, 6-member, mostly male, City Council that providing local women with family planning services, cancer screenings, and preventative care is important to the Manassas community – all before they could open within city limits.

This is the bottom line: The proposed zoning update should not make it disproportionately difficult for women’s health centers to operate or locate within Manassas City. Updated zoning laws should treat all healthcare providers equally, without discrimination and politically motivated interference.

The Manassas City Council and Mayor Harry Parrish II are allowing for public comments on the issue at their next meeting on Monday, March 16th. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia will be there in full force– speaking out against the discriminatory zoning updates and demanding equality for women’s healthcare centers–and we would love for you to join us. RSVP here!

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