Monday’s Manassas City Council meeting was as dramatic as everyone expected given two items on the agenda that would tighten zoning regulations surrounding abortion clinics as well as other medical facilities. The first zoning change would separate medical facilities into a different zoning category and the second would require certain clinics that perform outpatient surgeries like cosmetic surgery and abortion to get a “Special Use Permit” from the city before building could commence. Both agenda items were defeated 4-2.

Defenders of the proposed zoning changes called for “transparency” in the process of new medical facilities opening in Manassas, while opponents said that the amendments unfairly targeted women’s health clinics.

Mayor Harry J. Parrish II made a lengthy speech at the beginning of “Citizen Time” the segment of the meeting where audience members are allowed to voice their opinions to council members. It was a packed house and Delegate Bob Marshall came out to observe the debate over the proposed policy changes. 

“We all understand that this is an emotional and passionate issue,” Parrish said. “But tonight’s agenda items are not about abortion, just about land use.”

While the Commonwealth of Virginia oversees the medical regulation for abortion clinics, cities and towns have the right to update zoning regulations on facilities making it harder for providers to move into new areas.

The issue has been brewing for some weeks as Councilman Mark Aveni asked council members in January to consider updating the city’s zoning regulations in a manner similar to those made in Fairfax. 

Supporters of Aveni’s zoning amendments cited ongoing issues at a clinic in Fairfax as a reason for the considered changes as well as the “protection of the unborn.” Over the summer, the Fairfax clinic made news after reports of health violations surfaced. Ultimately, the clinic closed and has not reopened. The Amethyst Clinic in Manassas is one of just 20 left in the commonweath that performs early term abortions according to the clinic’s website.

“I believe in choice. My body, my choice,” said Manassas resident Lianne Best. “Clinics like Amethyst provide more than just early term abortions; they provide healthcare for women in need.”

Roughly 83 people spoke out at the meeting. 55 of the speakers supported Councilman Aveni’s proposal to separate out medical facilities from other businesses. And about half of the crowd lived in Manassas while the others were from surrounding towns. The voting finally concluded around 11:15 p.m. City Councilmen spent hours listening to the concerns of everyone in the audience. 

Photo by Mary Rosenthol