Anti-choice messaging tactics need to be examined, not ignored

The following op-ed was written by Sarah Hogg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

Last Monday, I was enjoying a sleepy morning relaxing with a book and a cup of tea. It was beautiful outside, and the sun was shining through the windows of my bedroom—always an indicator of a good day in what has been a fairly gloomy November. Just as I was getting ready to head to campus, feeling prepared and excited for the day, social media exploded. The Genocide Awareness Project was back on campus for the first time in three years.

I’m a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where I’ve been NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s campus representative intern for the past four semesters. JMU could be seen as a somewhat liberal campus—our town typically goes blue in elections, which is largely influenced by college students—but access to safe and affordable abortions is still a controversial topic, as it is most everywhere.

Three years ago, during my very first semester at JMU in fall 2011, an awful campaign called the Genocide Awareness Project (or GAP for short) came to JMU and set up on the Commons, our central point of campus where many groups table and pass out fliers everyday. The Genocide Awareness Project displays massive, sprawling photo-murals of aborted fetuses and compares abortion to genocide—an absolutely abhorrent anti-choice tactic. GAP’s display is extremely triggering and demonizes and terrorizes people who have had abortions. They are blatantly anti-woman and anti-choice.

The Genocide Awareness Project is not innocent. Their intense photo display cannot be cast off as an irrelevant thing that a bunch of extremists put together. This kind of anti-choice tactic cannot, and should not, be ignored. The fact is that their campaign is deeply harmful, and possibly even triggering, to a huge number of people. It is violent anti-choice messaging, and has severe effects on those who see it. I know for a fact that at least one person had a panic attack upon seeing the images GAP displayed, and I am sure she was not the only one. Here’s the bottom line: if your campaign is putting people’s mental (and/or physical) health in danger, it needs to stop. While it’s easy to write GAP off as ignorant, or just something awful that came through campus and left two days later, that’s not all it is. It hurts people. It shames them. And herein lies the problem.

The choice to have an abortion can be a difficult one. Even so, research shows that the majority of people who have had abortions do not regret them and do not feel shame surrounding their choice. However, when they are confronted by individuals or groups telling them that they contributed to genocide, or murdered a child, or are awful people who are going to Hell, they may begin to feel like those allegations are true. They may begin to feel shame not because of their own choice, but because of the despicable messaging that is being thrown in their face because of that choice. It has to stop.

I recognize that the kind of anti-choice messaging the Genocide Awareness Project practices may only be promoted or accepted by extreme pro-life folks, but the overall theme is the same: abortion is inherently wrong, and therefore, people who seek abortions should feel ashamed for their choices and those who advocate for safe, legal, and affordable abortion access must be stopped. This kind of dangerous rhetoric is seen all over the place in the anti-choice movement, but, as we’ve seen, it isn’t innocent. It has the ability to push people who have had abortions to a place of shame and silence.

My hope is that JMU students and students on other campuses who have been unlucky enough to experience GAP are now motivated to take action. The conversation surrounding GAP and anti-choice messaging was one of the things that inspired me to jump into the pro-choice, feminist worlds my freshman year. If we can’t get them off our campus, we can at least think critically about projects like GAP and become more involved in reproductive justice. We can no longer allow people who seek abortions to be shamed into silence by loud, extreme voices. We have to be louder.

October Update from the University of Richmond

By Kristen Gell, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the University of Richmond. Connect with Kristen and the Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) crew on Facebook!

October has been a busy month for Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) here at UR!  We’ve really gotten into the groove of things and established our presence well on campus.

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Tabling in support of the Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion, where we handed out information and statistics on abortion and it’s restrictions in Virginia, the US, and the world to students.

Just this month, we published our first zine!  It took a while for us to get it all put together, especially considering it’s our inaugural issue, but we are happy with the result!  From here on out, we hope to publish two per semester.  Our first issue was meant to be an introduction to SURJ and what we do for those who are unfamiliar with us.  It highlights the scope of reproductive justice in order to set the scene for what we will be addressing throughout the year.  We hope to establish the zines as something students can come to expect to see every so often around campus.

At the end of September, our school hosted Laverne Cox as part of the speaker series for UR Comes Out!, a part of celebration of LGBTQ history month, which occurs in October.  Her speech was moving and inspiring and certainly a privilege for all of us to attend.  In our own discussions, we made a pledge to make everything we do as an organization as inclusive as we can so as not to exclude trans* people from the scope of reproductive justice.
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UR students were fortunate enough to meet Laverne Cox after her talk. We plan to integrate many of her ideas into our actions. As she said, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” and we hope to spread the love in all that we do.

In an effort to become an active part of the reproductive justice community not only on campus, but also in the greater Richmond area, we participated in our first day of clinic defense!  It was a great opportunity for us to speak with others in the Richmond community about issues they face and how they are actively involved in being a force for change.  It was also valuable for us to see firsthand the intimidation tactics used by anti-choice protesters and how they operate.  We had a great time chatting with the other defenders and were able to keep the protesters at bay, and hope to return to the clinic again soon for another successful weekend!

While much of what we do is centered around organizing for action with respect to reproductive justice topics, sometimes it’s nice just to get out as a group and have fun!  In the spirit of choice and the month of October, we decided to go pumpkin picking!

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We had a great time at the pumpkin patch!

We all had a blast wandering around the patch choosing the perfect pumpkin (or not!), drinking hot cider, and even buying some fresh veggies for dinner.  It provided us with a great opportunity to get to know each other better and will definitely have a positive impact on how we function as an organization.

October Update from James Madison University

By Sarah Hogg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

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Sarah Hogg

It’s been a great month for choice and reproductive justice at James Madison University! I’ve been the campus rep here for two years, and this has definitely been my favorite semester yet. In October, we worked on building solidarity and community among pro-choice activists on campus, published an op-ed on TRAP regulations in the student newspaper, and ran a successful campaign on the importance of voting pro-choice!

My favorite event of the month was our “What’s Scarier Than Halloween?” pro-choice voting awareness campaign. Every semester our Choice Out Loud team runs some kind of whiteboard campaign, and I have to say that I think this one was the best yet!

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Nicholas Wilfong

Our goal was to raise consciousness about voting on JMU’s campus and make it fun and educational at the same time. Putting a twist on our usual “I’m voting pro-choice because…” whiteboards, we decided to mix it up and make this campaign Halloween-themed. The whiteboards read “What’s scarier than Halloween?” and students and staff wrote in their pro-choice, pro-women, healthcare related answers and then took a picture with the whiteboard.

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Meredith Hartsel

At the end of the campaign, we made a photo album of all 38 participants and their responses, which was posted to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Facebook page. Not only was the campaign fun for everyone involved, it got students talking about the importance of voting in favor of reproductive justice for all.

One of my main goals of the Choice Out Loud internship this semester is building solidarity and community among pro-choice folks. While great work can be done on an individual level, amazing work is done in groups where people feel they are safe, understood, and share the same goals and aspirations. In order to begin work on this goal, I held a pro-choice movie night where a small group of active Choice Out Loud volunteers watched “Obvious Child.”

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Alexa McManus

Afterwards, we had a short discussion, but overall my goal was just to bring people together to begin to build those meaningful relationships that truly make grassroots movements unique. I’m looking forward to continuing this community building in November with a pro-choice coffee series called “Coffee, Consciousness, and Choice” where volunteers will come together to discuss a new reproductive justice-related topic each week!

We’ve had a great semester so far, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us at James Madison University over the next couple of months!

Check out all of the “What’s Scarier than Halloween” responses:

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October with William and Mary’s Voices for Planned Parenthood

By Jenny Rossberg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the College of William and Mary. Connect with Jenny at vox@email.wm.edu.

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Here’s our VOX poster board with some condoms and NARAL buttons! (Also plants from the Botany Club plant sale)

This month VOX kept our pro-choice activism going steady with a number of education and volunteer events. We tabled twice in Sadler, our food court/student center area in order to raise awareness about STI prevention on campus and to advertise our club. As usual, we handed out free condoms, stickers, buttons, and information about CPC’s.

In addition to our normal sexual health message, though, we also gave out information sheets about pro-choice and anti-choice candidates for the upcoming midterm elections. We really want students to understand how important it is to vote for candidates that will protect women’s reproductive rights.

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VOX member Elaine Edwards holds up our candidate info sheet, which lists pro and anti-choice candidates in the November midterm elections.

VOX also had two clinic escort events this October, in which members drove to Richmond to stand in support of patients visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic. Members said that the first clinic defense was very low-key: the protestors tried to talk to them and change their minds a couple of times, but otherwise they left our clinic escorts alone. The second time, however, someone driving by spit at the escorts from their car. A pro-choice pizza shop owner apparently turned the day around by offering the escorts a free pizza.

As a club, clinic defense is very near and dear to our hearts. Not only do we like to help the patients, but we also get to learn about what we’re doing as a movement. It’s one of the only times students from a relatively liberal campus interact with strongly anti-choice people. A lot of the protestors do not understand that the clinic provides many services other than abortion, nor is the abortion information they distribute accurate.

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VOX members left to right: Haley Arata, Taylor Medley, Elaine Edwards, and Katelyn Reimer.

All of the groups we’ve seen are faith-based, and all of them offer religious salvation and help raising a baby (namely giving out free strollers) to the women going into the clinic. They can be polite and passive, but other times they harass clinic patients by trying to give them pamphlets or show grotesque images of late-term aborted fetuses to both patients and cars driving by.

VOX did a few other things this month. At one of our meetings we watched the documentary After Tiller as a club and afterward had a discussion led by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Ta’Kindra Westbrook. Since late-term abortions are such a specific and difficult topic, the club really liked learning more about them and the providers. We also attended an event that the Pro-Life club on campus hosted called “Stump the Pro-Lifers.” It was overall very unproductive, but it did give us a sense of what pro-life rhetoric is like and what we’re up against as we continue to fight for abortion rights and better repro-health/justice education.

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VOX members left to right: Bri Little, Haley Wenk, Rachel Cook, Karla Kaplan, Katie Baldewin.

Finally, VOX helped support Healthy Relationships Month this October by attending the events that H.O.P.E. (Health Outreach Peer Educators) put on to educate students about healthy relationships and consent. They had a forum about healthy relationships, tabled to raise awareness about alcohol and issues with consent, and finally hosted the open house of William and Mary’s new safe space for survivors of sexual assault, The Haven.

Overall October was a very productive month for VOX. Next month we’re looking forward to more tabling, movie screenings, and clinic defenses, as well as planning a campus-wide abortion talk and the imminent destruction of the patriarchy.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jaime Argandona

Jaime started his work with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia at the Arlington Leadership & Advocacy Summit this summer. As a Choice Ambassador, he has taken part in half a dozen subsequent events, including tabling, trainings, and socials.

Jaime

1) What makes you pro-choice?

I am pro-choice because I am a feminist.  I am pro-choice because not having legal control over one’s body is dehumanizing.  I am pro-choice because abortions will happen regardless of their legality.

2) What made you decide to get involved with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia?

I learned about the fight for reproductive rights studying the Roe case in Civics class and (mistakenly) thought the issue was settled.  Three years ago, Virginia’s introduction of anti-abortion policies like the transvaginal ultrasound bill began making headlines, and I began to pay more attention.  The closure of the NOVA Women’s Healthcare Clinic in Fairfax City due to TRAP laws last year was a rude awakening.  I didn’t think that would happen here.  I decided to get involved.  I was glad to see a NARAL table at the Falls Church Farmers Market, signed up for the mailing list, and attended the Volunteer Leadership Summit over the summer.

3) What’s been your favorite NARAL event?

Choice Discussion Group is my favorite activity.  Hearing the experiences and perspectives of others on reproductive justice issues both informs and challenges my own.  These discussions make all of us better pro-choice advocates by getting us comfortable talking about the issues.

4) What do you imagine the future will be like as regards reproductive rights?

If I let my imagination run, I can imagine a world that sees reproductive rights as inalienable as liberty. More immediately, in the US, we can either continue the erosion of the constitutional right to abortion, or we can come together to keep abortion safe, accessible and destigmatized.

Thank you for all your terrific work, Jaime!

Women’s health rights may be moving forward, but the battle is far from over

The following op-ed was written for “The Breeze” by Sarah Hogg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

It is no secret that women’s health rights, specifically abortion rights, are heavily debated within the United States. This summer saw two anti-woman, anti-choice wins in the landmark Hobby Lobby and McCullen v. Coakley Supreme Court cases. However, the abortion debate isn’t just in Washington D.C. in the Supreme Court or in Congress—it’s also happening right here in our backyard. Virginian women have dealt with extreme opposition to abortion, birth control, and general healthcare for many years, a battle that was exemplified in 2012 with the passage of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP laws) by the Virginia Assembly. The Virginia Board of Health initially refused to comply with TRAP laws, but ultimately decided to pass the regulations after being pressured, bullied, and even threatened by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

TRAP laws impose superfluous restrictions on clinics that provide abortions and demand that they have the same building standards hospitals do, all under the guise of “women’s safety.” This is a ridiculous notion considering that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures one can have—the procedure will not become safer if it is performed in a larger room or in a clinic with expanded hallways. TRAP laws are just a backhanded way to get abortion clinics to close—the extreme politicians pushing for these regulations only care about eliminating abortion, not women’s safety. Due to these costly new building regulations, some clinics across the Commonwealth were forced to close, and many more threaten to nothing is done about TRAP.

Thankfully, with Governor McAuliffe’s inauguration into office in January, these detrimental and dangerous laws have a chance of being amended or even appealed. In May, the Governor asked for a review of TRAP laws, calling the regulations extreme and punitive, and emphasizing that these laws jeopardize Virginia women’s health and reproductive rights. With the Virginia Board of Health review came a public comment period in which Virginians could voice their concerns about the regulations—and the responses were overwhelmingly pro-choice. Out of approximately 14,000 comments, 10,000 of those requested that the regulations be repealed. After the 45-comment day period ended, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Melissa Levine announced her decision to amend TRAP laws, which is a huge step in the right direction for choice in the Commonwealth.

While Dr. Levine’s choice is certainly worth celebrating, it is important to remember that the battle for choice in Virginia is far from over. Even though Commissioner Levine decided to move forward and amend the laws, this is only the first step. Now, the Virginia Board of Health must vote on whether to accept her recommendations during its December 4th meeting. This great decision still does not erase the ugly history of extreme, anti-woman conservatism in Virginia, and does not make up for the anti-choice laws still on the books in the Commonwealth. It will take many years to undo the damage done by far-right politicians such as former Governor Bob McDonnell and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, without whom TRAP laws may not even exist in the first place.

VA Health Commissioner decides to amend dangerous TRAP restrictions!

By Nicole Linder, Fall 2014 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Virginia Commissioner of Health Dr. Marissa Levine gave her two-cents about the medically unnecessary restrictions on Virginia women’s health centers, known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws.

On October 1st, the commissioner announced her decision to amend the restrictions that have put numerous health clinics out of business and, more importantly, thousands of Virginia women in jeopardy.

Levine’s decision comes almost five months after Governor McAuliffe ordered an official review of Virginia’s abortion clinic regulations.

McAuliffe was quoted in the Huffington Post saying he was, “concerned that the extreme and punitive regulations adopted last year jeopardize the ability of most women’s health centers to keep their doors open and place in jeopardy the health and reproductive rights of Virginia women.”

In the months since the Governor’s review was ordered, thousands of Virginians has expressed their concerns about TRAP and the need for revision. Commissioner Levine, herself, received more than 10,000 comments on the issue with 80 percent of them in favor of an amendment.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia– along with our friends at ProgressVA, ACLU of Virginia and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia– delivered 4,844 anti-TRAP comments to the Virginia Department of Health back in July.

Although we at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia are pleased with Commissioner Levine’s decision to amend TRAP, there is still a long road ahead before we can say that all women’s health centers in Virginia are protected.

The Board of Health must now vote on whether or not to accept the Commissioner’s recommendations and start the amendment process. During this decision, it’s crucial for all Virginians to speak out against TRAP and speak up about protecting women’s healthcare services.

Please share the following photo and use the hashtag #scrapTRAP when commenting on the issue.

Thank you, Commissioner Levine!

Thank you again, Commissioner Levine for deciding that it’s time to #scrapTRAP!

September Update from the University of Richmond

By Kristen Gell, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the University of Richmond. Connect with Kristen and the Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) crew on Facebook!

I am so excited to be the new Choice Out Loud campus representative at the University of Richmond! And so far, things have been going very well!

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Gearing up for SpiderFest, where we talked with students about ways to get involved both on campus and in the Richmond community!

Earlier this month, we were involved in SpiderFest, an event in which students can network with leaders from various clubs and organizations on

campus and learn how to get involved.

We were able to recruit many new students and are thrilled to see how much our numbers have grown in the three years I have been a student at this university!

We have many fun plans for the fall semester, including a film screening, clinic escorting, and the installment of monthly zines!

These short info graphics will be distributed to the student population here at UR and give students a taste of what events are going on around campus with respect to reproductive justice issues as well as inform them of the actions of politicians and activists in the field.

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As part of the Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, we filled our student forum with facts and statistics about abortion in the middle of the night so that students would see them on their way to class the next day. Unfortunately, it rained, but many students still caught a glimpse in the morning!

We hope these zines will be a fun and effective way to make information readily available to a wide population.

With the help of NARAL and the Choice Out Loud campaign, it seems this upcoming semester will be successful in raising awareness to reproductive health issues and curbing the stigma that is associated with these topics.

September with William and Mary’s Voices for Planned Parenthood

By Jenny Rossberg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the College of William and Mary. Connect with Jenny at vox@email.wm.edu.

VOX Tabling

From left to right, Jenny Rossberg, Daisy Horning, Rachel Cook, Taylor Medley, and Haley Arata stand in front of the VOX table at the William and Mary Activities Fair.

William and Mary’s Voices for Planned Parenthood club, or VOX, had a very productive pro-choice month. Starting with the Activities Fair at the beginning of the semester, we’ve been working hard to recruit new students to participate in VOX. VOX has a lot of new members this year including freshmen, transfer students, and older William and Mary students who heard about the club last year and decided to get more involved this semester.

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Our award-winning VOX poster board.

The fair was a really good way to get our message out to the school. We reserved a table, set up our world-famous VOX tri-fold and had a laptop on hand to take down the contact information of interested students. By the end of the night we received over 160 email addresses!

After our successful tabling at the Activities Fair, VOX has tabled twice outside of the Sadler food court on campus. Normally we hand out condoms and information about Planned Parenthood and NARAL, as well as general information about sexual health and STI prevention.

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One of our newest members, Erin Wall, helped out at our VOX table in the Sadler Center.

Last Friday, we also put out voter registration forms in honor of National Voter Registration Day and registered several students. We got awesome new condoms, pens, buttons, and information from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia that were super popular among the students.

In addition to our bi-monthly tabling events, VOX holds a weekly meeting every Monday at 8 PM in which members discuss current events pertaining to pro-choice activism and ideas for activism on campus.

In our first meeting we discussed the state of women’s reproductive rights in Virginia and what issues members thought the club should target this year.

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Some of our VOX members making genital pops!

Members generally agreed that we should raise awareness about the deception of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, reach out to more men, and try to normalize and personalize stories about abortion. We’ll also be campaigning for pro-choice candidates in the upcoming elections this fall.

Taking a break from our more serious meetings, however, VOX spent the third Monday this September making chocolate pops shaped like penises and vaginas. We plan to sell these fun treats at our next tabling event to raise money for our club and awareness about sexual health on campus. Trying to melt chocolate in the single, dingy microwave we had was a bit of a challenge, but in the end they turned out looking great!

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The chocolate penises turned out especially well.

VOX is looking forward to a few larger events later this semester. Some of our club members are heading to Richmond this weekend to participate in a clinic defense. We are also hoping to help table with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia at a Farmer’s Market later this fall!

Overall, the semester is already off to a great start.

Cosmopolitan Endorses Foust!

By Nicole Linder, Fall 2014 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Last night Cosmopolitan Magazine rolled out the latest endorsements in their ongoing #CosmoVotes campaign, an amazing new effort encouraging women to get to the polls this November. We were SO excited to see that they endorsed John Foust, a pro-choice candidate running in Virginia’s 10th Congressional district!Endorses-3

In the article, Cosmo compared the views of Foust and his opponent Barbara Comstock on issues such as equal pay, reproductive rights and same-sex marriage, and concluded that due to Foust’s strong pro-choice values, “Virginia women (and men) need John Foust.”

Besides endorsing Foust, Cosmo also took the opportunity to discuss why his opponent, incumbent Barbara Comstock, is a bad choice for all Virginians.

As the female contender in this tight race, Comstock’s views, ironically, are anything but pro-women. Comstock supported a controversial 2012 bill, which required all pregnant women–including survivors of rape or incest– to undergo a mandatory ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

Calling them her “common sense principles,” Comstock is also vocal about her plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and has voted to defund reproductive resources, such as Planned Parenthood.

Besides dictating the reproductive choices and resources of Virginia women, Comstock also wants to control our purses. Comstock– and her colleagues in the House Commerce and Labor Committee– tabled a minimum wage bill this spring, a move that would have raised the base wage to $8.25 an hour and have a positive impact on Virginia women.

Here at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, we are proud of Cosmopolitan Magazine for stepping back from their usual commentary to write such a detailed article about an important Virginia race.

We stand with Cosmo, their endorsement, and their belief that, “Virginia women (and Virginia men) don’t need a representative who signs on to trans-vaginal ultrasounds and who thinks the ability to challenge unequal pay practices is a “left-wing agenda.” Virginia women (and men) need John Foust: Pro-equality, pro-education, pro-choice.”

A fantastic endorsement for a fantastic pro-choice candidate!