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Zoning change that makes abortion clinics easier to open in Alexandria draws ire of local Catholic leadership

Pro and anti-abortion activists at Alexandria City Hall, June 28, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

A zoning change that would make it easier to open medical offices and clinics in Alexandria’s commercial and mixed-use zones has drawn the ire of local Catholic leadership over the inclusion of abortion services.

A staff report on the zoning text amendment in question says:

Staff has identified inconsistencies in healthcare-related use definitions that should be amended to ensure that medical offices and clinics, including those that provide abortion services, can be approved by-right in commercial and mixed-use zones.

The report said a previous amendment from 2020 to distinguish between “medical care facilities” and other facilities, like health profession offices, accidentally complicated the process more than intended. It’s a largely bureaucratic change, but one notable aspect is the inclusion of abortion services as a by-right approval that would make new abortion clinics “less open to appeals.”

According to the document:

In response to Council’s resolution, staff also proposes including the term “abortion services” in both the health profession office and medical care facility definitions. This way, by-right approval of abortion services would not be contingent on a staff determination and therefore less open to appeals. Medical care facilities would still require SUP approval in most zones. Staff proposes retaining the SUP requirement for a medical care facility as one could have the potential for greater land use impacts based on its larger size and greater number of employees and patients. Staff’s proposed amendment clarifies that a medical care facility may offer abortion services.

According to The Arlington Catholic Herald, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge called on Catholics in Alexandria to make their voices heard in opposition to the change.

“Obviously those who are representing us on the City Council should be very interested in hearing our voices and our concerns,” Burbidge said on a podcast. “We will stay very vigilant and we will certainly keep the faithful, not only in Alexandria but in our whole diocese, to stay vigilant here and make our voices and deeply held convictions known.”

The Arlington Catholic Herald also reported that activist organization The Virginia Catholic Conference called on opponents of the zoning change to email the City Clerk.

According to The Virginia Catholic Conference:

At its City Council meeting on April 15, the Alexandria City Council will consider Zoning Text Amendment #2023-00002. This amendment would give abortion clinics special status in areas zoned as commercial and mixed use properties by explicitly listing abortion clinics as health profession offices and medical care facilities. The amendment would allow clinics that provide “abortion services” to set up in these areas “by right,” meaning with no consideration to potential impacts on the area and regardless of Alexandria’s need for primary care physicians and other life-saving health clinics. Contact the City Council today and tell them that you oppose this political statement to prioritize abortion regardless of any impact to the area.

It isn’t the Alexandria City Council’s first run-in with anti-abortion activists. Last March, a proclamation honoring abortion providers was withdrawn from a City Council meeting after pressure from local religious clergy, including Burbidge. Some on the City Council, notably City Council Member Kirk McPike, later expressed regret over the decision to withdraw the proclamation.

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