Politics

Virginia Democrats' legislative moves on reproductive rights prove elections have consequences

After more than 25 years of forced-birthers in the Republican-controlled Virginia state legislature passing law after law restricting abortions and limiting other reproductive rights, the new Democratic majority elected in November showed its clout this week. Members moved the Reproductive Health Protection Act, SB733, and its companion bill in the House of Delegates, HB980, out of committees on party-line votes. 

If the full legislature approves the legislation, which Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is on record as favoring, it will jettison medically unnecessary restrictions, including vaginal ultrasounds, a 24-hour waiting period, and state-mandated “counseling” that amounts to nothing more than anti-abortion propaganda. It will also end the prohibition on abortions being performed by advanced practice clinicians—highly trained nurses and physicians’ assistants—and eliminate laws that prescribe special rules targeting abortion providers, something that is straight-out harassment designed to shut them down. 

If the bill passes, there likely will be more to come. That’s worth a hallelujah.

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said at a press conference Wednesday: “These laws have been about shaming women, stigmatizing abortion, shutting off access, discouraging doctors from providing this care. And we say, we’ve had enough, the voters in Virginia have had enough, and now we’re going to act on it.”

A press release from Keene’s group cited the views of several pro-choice activists regarding the legislation. 

“When we voted in November, we cast our ballots for legislators who would protect and expand access to abortion and the full range of reproductive health services. We’re thrilled to see that legislators are keeping their campaign promises and voting to support the Reproductive Health Protection Act,” Anna Scholl, Executive Director of Progress Virginia, said. “Passing this bill is the first step towards a Virginia where everyone has the opportunity to thrive in our communities and the ability to choose whether, how and when to start a family. We will continue to watch to ensure that this bill is passed by the full House and Senate so that everyone in our community can access the health care they need when they need it, including abortion.” […]

“Eighty eight percent of registered Latino/a voters in Virginia agree that a woman should be able to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion care without political interference,” Sarah Flores Shannon, Field Coordinator of the Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in Virginia, said. “TRAP, along with other medically unnecessary regulations, are outdated attacks on safe and routine reproductive healthcare. We know that such restrictions disproportionately harm communities of color and low income patients. We look forward to putting healthcare decisions back in the hands of patients and their healthcare providers.” 

The welcome turnaround in Virginia follows on eight years of forced-birthers in the commonwealth introducing 170 medically unnecessary abortion bills and regulations

States under Republican control continue to tighten restrictions on abortion, several of them intentionally passing laws they know cannot pass court muster under Roe v. Wade. Their hope is that the Supreme Court will take up one of these cases and partially or wholly reverse the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. The Supremes are already slated to hear a case on March 4, Gee v. June Medical Services, that could mark the biggest change on abortion since 1992

At issue is whether doctors at Louisiana’s only remaining abortion clinic must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The court has already ruled a similar Texas requirement unconstitutional in 2016 in the case of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. But many reproductive rights activists believe there is a better than even chance that the court majority will uphold the Louisiana provision, reversing the Texas ruling. Otherwise, why would the Gee case even be up for review given the very recent precedent of Hellerstedt?

But however the court rules in Gee and whether or not the conservative majority ultimately chooses to reverse or gravely undermine Roe, states like the newly blue Virginia need to step up their protection for this crucial element of women’s health care, giving it the same status as other medical procedures and ensuring that every woman of every age, affluent or economically squeezed, is guaranteed access without government stepping in between physicians and their patients to meddle in private decisions.

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If you live in Virginia, urge your legislators to pass Reproductive Health Protection Act.


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