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Votes

Editorial: City Council vs. Women’s Health Centers

There’s something I learned in college that has always stuck with me: Political theory is not formed in a vacuum. How we see the world is informed by the times we have lived through. I’m a native of Virginia and most of my life has now been lived here in Fairfax. I’ve made it my home and raised my children here.

In 2012, I decided to run for Fairfax City Council after a council member passed away unexpectedly. Three non-incumbent candidates ran that year, and I was one of them. While I didn’t win, I learned a lot about the community I have watched evolve over 30 years—and I always respected the candidates I was running against. While campaigning, I didn’t doubt for a second that these city council members were motivated to serve the best interests of their community. Today, I still believe they have our city’s prosperity and well-being at heart.

That’s why I was shocked when the Fairfax City Council voted on Tuesday July 9th to require women’s health centers to undergo a new, arbitrary and expensive zoning permit process. Many people, including myself, saw this as a thinly veiled attempt to keep an abortion clinic from moving into a building on Main Street. Women’s health centers will now be forced to jump through hoops to move into or relocate within the city, while the zoning laws relating to other doctors and dentists offices remain unchanged.

In the few days since the vote, my neighbors and I have reacted with shock, confusion and even fury. Putting women’s health centers in the same category as hospitals for regulation and zoning purposes places a burden on clinics that is not applied to other medical offices. And the new zoning requirements would require women’s health centers to apply for a Special Use Permit, an expensive and lengthy process open to arbitrary decisions and political manipulation.

Mayor Scott Silverthorne and members of the Fairfax City Council who voted in favor of the ordinance vehemently deny that this process was political in any way. But the zoning change is due in part to the attempt of an abortion provider to relocate, and unfortunately the new ordinance makes the zoning process more opaque, not less.

The big conclusion is this: Political theory is not formed in a vacuum. Too often we don’t stop to consider that our experiences are not universally shared. While those who voted for this change may genuinely feel it’s the better option, they have not considered the vastly different experience of others in the city equally convinced that an injustice has been done here. The Fairfax City Council needs to re-open this debate and they need to listen. To serve is to listen and understand those you serve. I believe, as do many others, that the City Council vote on July 9th was hasty, ill informed and in opposition to the core values of many Fairfax City residents. I also believe that this can be fixed. That’s why I’m urging Mayor Scott Silverthorne and other members of the City Council to reconsider this ordinance at the next city council meeting on July 23rd.

Please allow us to share our unique experiences and perspectives on this important issue with those who were elected to govern us. I sincerely hope that we can work with the council on a solution that is in the best interest of this city and the people who live here.