Abortion Clinics Face Local Battles as Cities Push Restrictions

September 10, 2013 — Abortion clinics -- already besieged by state regulations -- must increasingly grapple with city-level ordinances that add burdensome requirements, Bloomberg/West Lebanon Valley News reports (Crawford, Bloomberg/West Lebanon Valley News, 9/9).

For example, antiabortion-rights activists in Albuquerque, N.M., have gathered enough signatures to hold a city referendum on a 20-week abortion ban that failed to pass the state Legislature. If approved, the proposal would make Albuquerque the first city to impose such a ban, which mirrors statewide laws in a dozen other places (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/5).

Cheryl Sullenger -- a senior policy adviser at Operation Rescue, a Wichita, Kan.-based group that is pushing the Albuquerque ballot measure -- said abortion-rights opponents will expand the use of local-level tactics if they find the Albuquerque vote successful. "We will take it to the local level if that is what we need to do," she said, adding, "Let's zone them out. Let's take any opportunity available to us."

Municipal Regulations Target Clinics

Elsewhere, abortion-rights opponents are using local zoning changes and other municipal regulations to force clinics to close. For instance, Virginia's highest-volume abortion clinic closed in July after an unsuccessful attempt to find a new location within the same city.

NOVA Women's Healthcare sought a different location in Fairfax after its landlord sued, in part because of antiabortion-rights protests outside the clinic, according to Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. The clinic selected a location that would meet new state requirements that are set to take effect in 2014, but the City Council in May rejected the clinic's application, citing insufficient parking spaces.

In July, the council passed rules reclassifying abortion clinics as medical-care facilities, which would have required NOVA Women's Healthcare to acquire a $4,800 special-use permit and council approval. "They were hit on all sides from a policy standpoint and, unfortunately, the women's health facility was not able to overcome the obstacles that these politicians put in their way to remain open and offer services to their patients," Keene said.

Abortion-rights opponents also are pursuing local restrictions in Wichita, according to Bloomberg/Valley News. Mark Gietzen -- director of the Kansas Coalition for Life -- said he and other abortion-rights opponents are urging the local planning commission and the Wichita City Council to rezone the area around South Wind Women's Center, based on a claim that the potential for violence at the clinic endangers the surrounding neighborhood (Bloomberg/West Lebanon Valley News, 9/9).