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Virginia Health Commissioner resigns in protest

Strict abortion clinic regulations cited in Virginia official’s resignation

Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley abruptly resigned from her position Thursday citing the controversial abortion clinic regulations passed this year as her impetus.

The Virginia Board of Health passed regulations in June that classify abortion clinics as hospitals, requiring them to abide by the same architectural standards. The regulations included specifications for wider hallways and covered entrances, among other stipulations.

These new requirements, Remley said, are unfair interpretations of Virginia Code.

“My ability to fulfill my duties is compromised and in good faith I can no longer serve in my role,” she said in an email to her colleagues.

Because of pressure largely from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s 20 abortion clinics will have to undergo pricey renovations in a short timeframe to meet the new requirements.

“When the Attorney General puts politics before public health and his personal ideological agenda above the law, it has real consequences for Virginians,” Virginia Senator Mark Herring (D-Loudon and Fairfax Counties) said in press release. “In this case, Virginia lost a dedicated public servant in Dr. Remley, whose advocacy on behalf of Virginia women will be sorely missed.”

But Virginia Board of Health Chair Bruce Edwards said he did not feel “bullied” by the attorney general.

“The Board of Health can only listen to the attorney general,” Edwards said. “His [Ken Cuccinelli’s] office was advising us of certain things and I, like others, got a lot of information of the deeper issues and sub issues.”

Former governor Tim Kaine, who appointed Remley in 2008, said in a press statement that it was unfortunate that a “political focus on limiting women’s access to health care” prompted Remley’s resignation after years of service to the commonwealth. “I know Karen has many years of service still ahead of her,” Kaine said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell did not comment on the reasons for Remley’s resignation, but did say she was a “tireless public servant” and that his office would miss her presence in his administration.

Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Maureen Dempsey will serve as interim commissioner. She was formerly director of the Missouri State Department of Health and Senior Services.