September 12, 2012

Open Government, Public Safety Concerns Cited

Richmond, VA – In a letter sent Monday, the ACLU of Virginia urged the Board of Health to change the venue for its meeting on Friday, September 14, at which the Board is expected to vote on controversial new regulations for women’s health centers that provide abortion care.  The current site does not have the capacity for the hundreds of people expected to attend the meeting, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga wrote in the letter.
The letter notes that currently, the meeting is to be held at a room at the Perimeter Center that holds 100 people.  An overflow room with a video feed will seat another 80 people.  It is the ACLU’s understanding that the people in the overflow room will not be permitted to sign up for public comment.
Gastañaga’s letter notes, “Given the intense public interest in the regulations for women’s health facilities to be considered by the Board, we believe that this plan is highly inadequate.  We anticipate that several hundred members of the public, representing both sides of the issue, are likely to attend the meeting.  A large number of these individuals will want to address the Board.  If the Board fails to afford the fullest possible opportunity for participation, the public is likely to consider the process unfair and view the ultimate outcome with suspicion.”
The letter also raises public safety concerns: “A crowd of people competing for an insufficient number of seats and public comment slots could have disastrous results.  The highly emotional nature of the matters under discussion will only exacerbate the problem and could lead to ill-considered responses by both the public and security and law enforcement officers present to protect their safety,” wrote Gastañaga.
“Our main concern is to ensure that everyone on both sides of the issue has a fair opportunity to voice their opinions to the Board,” said Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU of Virginia.
A copy of Gastañaga’s letter can be found online at: https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/20120910LtrtoHealthCommissionerPublicAccess.pdf

ACLU of Virginia Contacts:    Katherine Greenier, Women’s Rights Project Director Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director 804-644-8022

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