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Karen Remley, Virginia Health Commissioner, Resigns Over Abortion Clinic Regulations

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KAREN REMLEY
State Board of Health chairman, Bruce Edwards, left, and State Health Commissioner Karen Remley, right, survey the room prior to a meeting of the State Board of Health in Richmond, Va., Friday, June 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) | AP

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Remley announced her resignation on Thursday, citing the heavily politicized abortion clinic regulations that the Board of Health recently passed under pressure.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Remley wrote a letter to colleagues saying, "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."

Women's health advocates have long argued that the process by which the abortion clinic regulations were pushed through the state Board of Health was fraught with corruption and misuses of power. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an outspoken anti-abortion advocate, sent a set of detailed building regulations for first-trimester abortion clinics to the board for approval in June. The new rules, which called for things like covered entrances and hallways of certain widths, would require costly renovations, and many clinics would be unable to comply in the allotted two-year time period.

The Board of Health passed those regulations in June, but included a provision that would grandfather in existing clinics so that they would not be forced to close. Cuccinelli refused to certify that version of the regulations, telling board members that adopting such an amendment was outside their scope of power. He threatened to withhold state legal counsel from them if they did not pass his original version of the regulations.

Before the regulations went back to the Board of Health for a second vote, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) appointed to the board Dr. John Seeds, vice chairman of the anti-abortion group OBGYNS for Life. The Board of Health then passed Cuccinelli's preferred version of the regulations in September.

Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), who is currently running for Senate and who appointed Remley, said in a statement on Thursday that he was disappointed about the circumstances of her departure. "It’s unfortunate that a political focus on limiting women’s access to health care has prompted her resignation after many years of diligent and faithful service to the Commonwealth, but I know Karen has many years of service still ahead of her," Kaine said.

McDonnell did not address Remley's reason for leaving on Thursday, but he said in a statement that he greatly appreciates her public service and "will miss her in the administration."

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