Make this the year of wins for women’s health

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP-ED - BY TARINA KEENE AND MISSY WESOLOWSKI Tarina Keene is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NARAL Pro-Choice Vir­ginia, and may be con­tacted at [email protected]­alva.org. Missy Wesolowski is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Planned Par­ent­hood Ad­vo­cates of Vir­ginia, and may be reach

If the re­sults of the re­cent midterm and the 2017 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions in Vir­ginia have taught us any­thing, it is that ac­cess to re­pro­duc­tive health care and rights re­mains one of the most im­por­tant is­sues on the minds of Vir­ginia vot­ers.

When can­di­dates and leg­is­la­tors run on a pro-choice plat­form in Vir­ginia, they win. In 2017, the ma­jor­ity of Vir­ginia vot­ers con­sis­tently ranked re­pro­duc­tive rights as one of the top is­sues mo­ti­vat­ing them to vote and over­whelm­ingly elected pro-choice cham­pion Ralph Northam for gover­nor. In 2018, we saw can­di­dates with equally bold, un­apolo­getic plat­forms win across Vir­ginia in swing dis­tricts. Elaine Luria, Abi­gail Span­berger, and Jennifer Wex­ton of the 2nd, 7th, and 10th con­gres­sional dis­tricts, re­spec­tively, all ran suc­cess­ful cam­paigns with­out shy­ing away from sup­port­ing a woman’s right to make the per­sonal de­ci­sion to have an abor­tion. But while these his­toric wins prove that re­pro­duc­tive free­dom re­mains a win­ning is­sue here in Vir­ginia, the United States could be on the brink of los­ing ac­cess to safe, le­gal abor­tion in a num­ber of states.

Given the cur­rent makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, threats from the Trump White House, and a dan­ger­ous anti-abor­tion move­ment afoot to over­turn Roe v. Wade, we must en­sure Vir­ginia will pro­tect and ex­pand ac­cess to abor­tion care. The re­al­ity is, we may soon be the lone south­ern state with le­gal abor­tion and ac­cess to it. Our west­ern neigh­bors are also on the thresh­old of be­com­ing abor­tion deserts, with West Vir­ginia’s re­cent pas­sage of an amend­ment which would vir­tu­ally ban abor­tion in that state should Roe be severely gut­ted or over­turned. This would leave Vir­ginia as a refuge for pa­tients seek­ing care, as abor­tion providers shut their doors in the states south of and sur­round­ing the com­mon­wealth.

While Vir­ginia has no pre-Roe ban and no trig­ger law that would re­move abor­tion should Roe be gut­ted by the Supreme Court, nei­ther is there any ex­plicit pro­tec­tion of this fun­da­men­tal right.

This Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion, leg­is­la­tors will have the op­por­tu­nity to stand up loudly and proudly for Vir­ginia women. Come next Novem­ber, all 100 del­e­gates and 40 state sen­a­tors will be on the bal­lot across the com­mon­wealth.

Vot­ers, es­pe­cially women, will con­tinue to hold ac­count­able politi­cians who op­pose any Vir­ginian’s right to bod­ily au­ton­omy — to de­cide if, when, how, and with whom to be­come a par­ent.

This 2019 ses­sion, Planned Par­ent­hood Ad­vo­cates of Vir­ginia and NARAL Pro-Choice Vir­ginia’s bold leg­isla­tive agenda in­cludes the Re­pro­duc­tive Free­dom Act (RFA) and the Re­pro Equal Ac­cess Laws (RE­PEAL) Act. Del. Charniele Her­ring in­tro­duced the Re­pro­duc­tive Free­dom Act to pro­tect abor­tion rights in the com­mon­wealth. This leg­is­la­tion would not only en­shrine a per­son’s right to abor­tion in the Vir­ginia Code, but would also en­sure that the full range of re­pro­duc­tive health and rights to bod­ily au­ton­omy are pro­tected, in­clud­ing the right to choose or refuse con­tra­cep­tion, to carry a preg­nancy to term, or to have an abor­tion. This bill is crit­i­cal to paving a way for Vir­gini­ans to have the free­dom and dig­nity to make their own per­sonal and pri­vate health care de­ci­sions, should their rights be stripped away by the Supreme Court.

This ses­sion we must de­mand that all re­pro­duc­tive rights bills get a vote on the House or Se­nate floor. They should not be buried in com­mit­tee or de­nied a full vet­ting of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. Vot­ers have re­peat­edly made their voices heard, and they do not want politi­cians to dic­tate how they and their fam­i­lies de­cide to live their lives.

In ad­di­tion to pro­tect­ing Vir­gini­ans’ rights, we must also re­peal the ex­ist­ing re­stric­tive and de­mean­ing abor­tion laws on the books by pass­ing the Re­pro Equal Ac­cess Laws Act spon­sored by Sen. Jennifer McClel­lan and Del. Kathy Tran. These laws have been on the books for too long, fail­ing to re­flect cur­rent med­i­cal knowl­edge and stan­dards of prac­tice, and in­ter­fer­ing with the doc­tor-pa­tient re­la­tion­ship.

This bill would fi­nally re­peal the med­i­cally un­nec­es­sary and overly bur­den­some reg­u­la­tions such as the be­lit­tling 24-hour wait­ing pe­riod, manda­tory ul­tra­sound, and other med­i­cally point­less laws. It would bring us so much closer to a Vir­ginia where re­pro­duc­tive health care does not de­pend on an in­di­vid­ual’s ZIP code or eco­nomic sta­tus but rather al­lows in­di­vid­u­als the in­de­pen­dence to make de­ci­sions about their own body and their life.

How­ever, if anti-choice leg­is­la­tors de­cide that they or the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should con­trol how Vir­gini­ans and their fam­i­lies de­cide to live their lives, by vot­ing against the Re­pro­duc­tive Free­dom Act and RE­PEAL Act, they will be choos­ing to put Vir­gini­ans’ fates in jeop­ardy. In an at­tempt to con­trol the de­ci­sions and des­tinies of their con­stituents, they will also be choos­ing their own des­tinies come next elec­tion cy­cle. They will lose.

2013, BOB BROWN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Pro-choice ad­vo­cates ral­lied at the Bell Tower in Rich­mond’s Capi­tol Square on Jan. 22, 2013, the 40th an­niver­sary of Roe v. Wade.

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