Virginia Health Commissioner Resigns in Protest of Political Intrusion and Bullying in Abortion Regulations
Dr. Karen Remley notified medical associations and physicians about resignation due to “environment in which my ability to fulfill my duties is compromised”RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – In an email distributed this afternoon to a group of doctors, healthcare providers and medical associations across the state, Dr. Karen Remley, the Virginia Health Commissioner, resigned her position due to, in her words, “enforcement of these [abortion] regulations…[that] has created an environment in which my ability to fulfill my duties is compromised and I can no longer in good faith continue in my role.” (FULL TEXT OF THE EMAIL IS BELOW) As the head of the Virginia Department of Health, Dr. Remley’s office was charged with developing new emergency temporary draft regulations of women’s health care facilities that provide first-trimester abortion in 2011, despite the lack of public health or safety violations to call for such new oversight. The regulations, which have just been certified by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli after his office pressured a vote by the Virginia Board of Health one month ago, single out women’s health care facilities for new-hospital-like building regulations instead of outpatient facilities, despite the fact that first-trimester abortion is an outpatient procedure. Other outpatient procedures in Virginia, including vasectomies and some cosmetic surgery, are not singled out for onerous construction upgrades. Of the 20 women’s health care centers that provide safe, legal first-trimester abortion and regular mammograms, reproductive health screenings and checkups, it’s unclear how many will close or scale back services to women as they face raising thousands of dollars in funds to build unnecessary new building features or move locations entirely. Full text of the email sent by Dr. Karen Remley, who was appointed by former Governor Tim Kaine (see bio here) at 2:31 p.m. today to groups including the Virginia free clinics, state hospitals, Virginia Nurses Association, Virginia Community Healthcare Association, Virginia Association of Health Plans and others: Dear Clinical Societies and Organizations, Together, we have worked on many important health issues- smoking bans in restaurants, the H1N1 response, Pertussis immunization and the current fungal meningitis outbreak being just a few. I hope that during my five-year tenure, you have come to think of the Virginia Department of Health as a true partner in your activities as a health care provider, both for your patients and our local communities. My regular communications, supported by the significant depth and breadth of knowledge from VDH experts, have been with a goal to both inform and strengthen that relationship. Please know that this relationship is essential to a strong public health and private health care community, especially in these rapidly changing times. I plan to continue to support this important mission. As you know VDH has been developing and implementing regulations of abortion facilities, and as of today all twenty abortion facilities eligible for licensing have been inspected, plans of correction received and approved, and within the next few days all will be licensed for the coming year. Unfortunately, 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 I can no longer in good faith continue in my role. I have submitted my resignation from the position from State Health Commissioner effective today. I continue to have a passion for public health and the future of health care in our commonwealth and will pursue opportunities to improve the health of all Virginians through different venues. Thank you for caring for Virginians in hospitals, clinics, offices, urgent care centers, pharmacies, nursing homes, free clinics and many more settings around the state. You truly inspire me daily. Respectfully, Karen Remley, MD, MBA, FAAP Commissioner, Virginia Department of Health REACTIONS FROM VIRGINIA DOCTORS TO THE NEWS OF DR. REMLEY’S RESIGNATION: Dr. Wendy Klein, Virginia OB-GYN, one of almost 200 doctors and healthcare specialists across Virginia who self-funded and published an open letter ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in September, said: “It is a very sad day when the Virginia Commissioner of Health, a widely-respected physician who has provided outstanding leadership in public policy and who has protected the health of the commonwealth, is so severely compromised by undue political pressure that she has tendered her resignation. While her action in refusing to sanction continued political interference with public policy is admirable, it also makes us that much more vulnerable to the social agenda of the McDonnell administration. McDonnell continues to compromise the scientific credibility of its public health agencies.” Dr. Ike Koizol, a Virginia physician who worked with Dr. Klein and a coalition of doctors to publicly protest political interference in women’s health, said: “It is indeed a sad situation when an excellent public health servant feels that she cannot continue working in her position, because she was doing her job in good faith and on the basis of evidence- based medicine. The Governor and Attorney General and the legislators involved in the abortion issue should be ashamed and hopefully will not be in office much longer. Keep these people out of the exam rooms.” ABOUT THE VIRGINIA COALITION TO PROTECT WOMEN’S HEALTH The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health formed in 2011 as a response to the attack on women’s health and safety prompted by Senate Bill 924. The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health strives to protect and ensure access for all women in all regions of Virginia to safe first-trimester abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care services. The Coalition is committed to ensuring any regulations are based solely on medical and public health considerations. The Coalition is opposed to excessive, burdensome or unneeded regulations that undermine patient access to medical care for political or ideological purposes. Members, partners and allies include: ACLU of Virginia, Annandale Women and Family Center, Center for Reproductive Rights, Falls Church Healthcare Center, Feminist Majority Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, National Abortion Federation, NOVA Women’s Healthcare, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, Progress Virginia, Richmond Medical Center for Women, Virginia NOW, and Virginia Organizing.