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