VA Health Commissioner Resigns Over Abortion Clinic Rules

Virginia’s health commissioner resigned Thursday, citing recent legal interpretations regarding abortion clinic regulations that she said prevented her from doing her job.

Karen Remley, who was appointed health commissioner by Gov. Tim Kaine in 2008, oversaw the state Board of Health while it considered strict new regulations for Virginia’s abortion providers.

“Unfortunately, how specific sections of the Virginia Code pertaining to the development and enforcement of these regulations have been and continue to be interpreted has created an environment in which my ability to fulfill my duties is compromised and in good faith I can no longer serve in my role,” Remley said in her resignation letter, according to CBS Richmond.

The Board initially voted to exempt existing abortion clinics from costly construction regulations, but after pressure from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, it reversed itself on Sept. 14 and voted to force all clinics to meet building regulations designed for new hospitals.

Anti-abortion activists have pushed similar regulations around the country. Abortion rights supporters have argued that the rules are unnecessary and are designed to force clinics to close.

“Dr. Remley is one of the best public health administrators in the country and she runs the best health department in the country,” Board of Health member Jim Edmondson told The American Independent. “When you lose people like that from state government, the people of the Commonwealth lose.”

Edmondson, one of two board members to vote against the new regulations in September, said he did not know about Remley’s resignation until he received her email this afternoon.

Gov. Bob McDonnell named Maureen Dempsey, chief deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health, as interim commissioner, and he will be responsible for naming Remley’s permanent replacement.

In July, McDonnell appointed John Seeds, a vice chairman of the anti-abortion group OBGYNS for Life, to the Board of Health. Edmondson said he worried that Remley’s resignation would lead to a similar appointment.

“I suspect that the successor to Dr. Remley will be a virulent anti-abortionist,” Edmondson said, “and I think what that means is that many of the [abortion] clinics that might seek waivers or variances from some of these new rules will be told, ‘No.’”

Under the regulations, clinics could apply for waivers that would allow them to have reasonable variances from the new rules. But those waivers would need to be approved by the health commissioner.

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