A TRAP Tantrum in Manassas

By: Michelle Kinsey Bruns, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation Board Member

Click for Facebook event and RSVP!In the last year, Virginia’s number of abortion clinics has dropped from 20 to 18, due to new regulations designed to be too tough to meet. In Manassas, one City Council member has spent the last six years leading a big-government crusade for these burdensome clinic regulations. Winning the restrictions he wanted at the state level last year hasn’t slowed Marc Aveni’s zeal for still more restrictions at the local level.

Next Monday, March 10, the Council will hold a re-vote that Aveni has forced on a question he lost by a 5-1 vote over a month ago: should Manassas single out clinics for fast-tracked zoning reclassification and special regulations requiring public hearings and a city council vote as a condition of operation?

Having failed to get his way, Aveni packed the last city council meeting with 100 clinic protesters to insist that the council re-do the vote, simply because he didn’t like its original outcome. We pro-choice people of conscience, from Manassas or elsewhere, need to be seen and heard in that council room on Monday night (RSVP on Facebook!), because the outrageous unfairness of a stunt-mob reversal of a finished vote doesn’t mean it can’t happen. There must be taxpayers who would like this council to accomplish something other than regulating pregnant people’s bodies, but those aren’t the people Aveni packed the chamber with last week.

Let’s back up. Aveni was first elected to Manassas City Council in 2006. Within the year, he proposed a resolution suggesting that the city amend its code to regulate its one abortion clinic, despite its lack of standing or technical expertise to do so. After the council was informed that medical regulation is a state function, Manassas’ fringey anti-choice Delegate Robert Marshall then suggested Board of Health regulation to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office as a way around State Senate rebuffs of repeated House of Delegates attempts to restrict abortion access. In 2010, Cooch responded with, essentially, “that’s a fabulous idea!” And then there, again, was Marc Aveni, with a resolution of the City of Manassas’ support for greater state abortion regulations, over the objections of fellow City Council Republican Mark Wolfe. Wolfe called city involvement in the matter “inappropriate,” but his no vote was the only one.

Three years later, in June 2013, Cooch had reconfigured and threatened the state Board of Health into giving him the draconian regulations he wanted; the new rules went into effect; and the first clinic to fall to the new regulations closed its doors.

Game over, right? Anti-choice got its Virginia TRAP law. But they’re weren’t done. They’re never done.

A month later, the lone clinic in the city of Fairfax attempted to relocate to a new space more suited to the new state regulations. The Fairfax City Council not only denied the Fairfax clinic a permit because of concerns about the amount of parking at the site (…really). They also created, on a day’s notice, a new Special Use Permit designation for medical facilities, with broad exemptions that seemed to apply to everything except abortion clinics. The permit would cost $4800 and require public hearings and a City Council vote as a condition of operation.

Instead of relocating, the Fairfax clinic closed.

Fifteen miles away in Manassas, anti-choice crusaders took note.

On October 28, two longtime Manassas clinic protesters stood to speak against women’s access to reproductive healthcare during the public comment period at a City Council meeting. They’d done so dozens of times before, but this time, they went farther. They asked the Council to consider copying Fairfax’s new municipal clinic regulations. Zoning reclassification, special use permit, public hearings, council approval. In short: arbitrary, big-government, partisan and ideological roadblocks, not to just abortion but also a broad range of other safe, legal, and necessary reproductive health and related care.

Immediately, Councilman Aveni offered a motion to do what the protesters had suggested. The vote was unanimous. And most of the council meetings of 2014 so far have had from a few minutes to several hours devoted to this issue—which, remember, should have been rendered moot last year when Aveni got the onerous clinic regulations he wanted from the state.

It’s worth noting that the two clinic protesters and Aveni are all members of All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas. For bonus points, so is Delegate “Sideshow Bob” Marshall. The protesters have both been “leadership team” members of the Manassas outpost of the national 40 Days For Life clinic harassment project. Manassas 40DFL, in turn, has close ties to the “AAA Women for Choice” (…really) anti-choice crisis pregnancy center beside the Manassas abortion clinic, which is a personal favorite of Ken Cuccinelli’s, and where staff told a NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation undercover investigator in 2012 that contraceptive pills would give her breast cancer (spoiler alert: no). One of AAA’s “counselors” is something of a city council regular, as well. I got a taste of how far outside the mainstream this crew is at a January Land Use Committee meeting: as the committee met in closed session, the pair from 40DFL and the AAA “counselor” spent a full thirty minutes explaining to me in the hallway that my marriage is invalid because I don’t plan to have children, and having babies is my “fulfillment as a woman” (…really).

These extreme anti-women activists are not everyday citizens concerned with women’s health. In fact, they seem pretty tight with Aveni, based on a huddle I saw them all in during a break at one council meeting. With this cast of recurring characters, the nonstop legislative harassment of the city’s present and future abortion providers looks a lot like an extracurricular church project. That’s great idea for a parish potluck, but a really terrible idea for legislative policy or for public health misinformation.

The debate appears headed for a political and fiscal quagmire, despite signs that much of the Manassas council would prefer to move past Aveni’s abortion fixation, and get on with the work of the city. At the January 23 land use meeting, the committee voted to recommend not a singling-out of abortion providers, but a long-needed comprehensive zoning overhaul. And at the February 3 full council meeting, the vote was 5-1 to accept community development staff’s recommendation for the comprehensive overhaul. Council members Way and Randolph wanted staff’s assurance that the part of the comprehensive overhaul that would answer the medical use definition question around clinics could be finished by the end of the calendar year, but they got what they needed, leaving Aveni standing alone.

Aveni, though, was visibly unhappy to lose the vote. And it seems that’s when he went into another activist huddle. A call went out among 40 Days For Life protesters to pack the public comment period of the next meeting, to insist that clinics get stricter regulations right now. A hundred anti-choice clinic protesters lined up on February 24 to speak for hours, in a sneak attack of half-truths and muddled comprehension of the issue at hand. Then Aveni attempted to call a vote on their demands: a unilateral do-over of the February 3 vote! Council member Randolph moved instead ­that the council have two weeks to mull it over. That brings us to next Monday’s council meeting—where it is crucial that pro-small-government, pro-fiscal-conservatism, pro-women, and pro-choice Virginians show up to tell them not to be intimidated by Aveni’s gang of latecomers.

Vice Mayor Harrover writes on his personal blog, “I’ve no love of abortion but this process was already in place.  It’s what the Council voted on last time around. … This [February 24] motion would appear to pre-judge the outcome of staff and legal work.  That’s got potential to cause some remarkable legal headaches.” And: “Amazing we can find money in the budget for this but not parks & rec, redevelopment or economic development.  We’re the only locality in NoVa that has none of these things.  Yay Us!” Plus, as political blogger Ben Tribbett points out, there’s very real potential for Fairfax’s hasty zoning changes targeting clinics to take that city’s whole political process hostage. This is what Aveni wants for Manassas. That, and to have the personal power to overrule the autonomous decision-making of pregnant people with the same kind of arrogant bully tantrum that he pulled in insisting that City Council re-do a vote until the results suit him.

One in three American women will have an abortion in her life: that’s 1.4 million women in Virginia alone. With just 18 clinics left in the state, many of those women have gone to, or will go to, the Manassas clinic for their abortion care.

There is no guarantee that the comprehensive zoning overhaul that we want will avoid a bad outcome for the Manassas clinic or any future Manassas clinic. But we know Aveni’s rush-job, piecemeal attack will be bad. A Special Use Permit puts any clinic one city council vote away from a shutdown. And if Aveni can airlift a crowd into a council meeting to demand a revote on a zoning proposal, what’s to stop him from doing the same with a clinic closing proposal­­?

Aveni doesn’t get to keep on making up the process as he goes along. Join me on Monday night in Manassas to say that six years of legislative harassment is enough.

Keep an anti-choice agenda out of Virginia’s budget & restore reproductive health care programs

You may have heard that the latest outrageous, disrespectful remark about women’s reproductive rights to stir up national ridicule and backlash came from Virginia’s own state Senator Steve Martin (R-Chesterfield). In a Facebook post dismissing a Valentine’s Day card he received from our Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition, in which we urged him to support access to the full range of reproductive health care services for Virginians, Sen. Martin referred to pregnant women as “hosts” for a child and otherwise showed just how little he gets what’s at stake. His post as a whole was another insight into how little respect and understanding anti-choice lawmakers like Senator Martin have for women’s reproductive lives and deeply personal decisions.

But current anti-choice attacks in Virginia’s General Assembly go beyond what politicians are saying — they’re also trying to push their agenda into law through the budget.

The version of Virginia’s two-year budget approved by the House of Delegates last week includes several amendments that push an anti-choice agenda and go after reproductive health care access, particularly for low-income Virginians. If passed, the House-approved budget amendments would:

  • Defund Planned Parenthood, blocking thousands of Virginians from receiving affordable preventative reproductive health care services like birth control and cancer screenings at their chosen provider (4-5.04 #3h)
  • Taking away coverage for abortion care for low-income, Medicaid-eligible pregnant women who are diagnosed with severe fetal anomalies, thereby taking away options from vulnerable families at a difficult time (4-5.04 #6h)
  • The budget even includes a laughable amendment from Delegate Bob Marshall to prevent Gov. McAuliffe from using executive action to repeal TRAP regulations – something the law doesn’t allow him to do anyway! (4-5.04 #4h)

Meanwhile, the House’s approved budget did not include several budget amendments passed by the Senate that would restore funding for programs that actually promote reproductive health care access for all Virginians, like:

  • Plan First, which provides family planning services for low-income people (301 #38s)
  • FAMIS MOMS, which is health coverage for low income pregnant women to ensure they can access prenatal and maternity care (301 #17s)
  • Marketplace Virginia, a common-sense compromise to close the Medicaid coverage gap and ensure that up to 250,000 Virginians have comprehensive, affordable health care (more info)
The budget now moves to a joint conference committee of House and Senate members who will decide what appears in the final budget. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our coalition partners are  urging the conference committee to remove the House amendments that would restrict reproductive health care access, and instead restore funding to critical reproductive health safety-net programs and work to extend health care coverage to more Virignians.

Despite heroic efforts from pro-choice Delegates, dangerous budget amendments advance in House

Yesterday, the Virginia House of Delegate voted to approve three separate budget amendments attacking women’s health. 

Despite passionate speeches against these extreme measures from our pro-choice champions, a majority of Delegates voted to include amendments in the final house budget to defund Planned Parenthood and strip funding for low-income women who seek abortion when the fetus has been diagnosed with an incapacitating anomaly. The House even voted to approve a laughable amendment from Delegate Bob Marshall to prevent Gov. McAuliffe from using executive action to repeal TRAP regulations – something the law doesn’t allow him to do anyway!

Rational or not, it’s obvious that these anti-choice Delegates will stop at nothing to attack women’s health and rights. But even as we’re gearing up for the next fight, it’s important to honor some of our amazing pro-choice legislators who fought so hard against these dangerous measures. Click on the names below to thank our pro-choice champions on their facebook pages! 

First to fight back on the floor yesterday was Delegate Charniele Herring, who spoke against the budget amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in Virginia. As she explained, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Virginia provide thousands of women with critical medical care, including cancer screenings, birth control, and safe, legal abortion. “Attacking access to healthcare for women is unconscionable,” Del. Herring said after the vote.  “In the Republican quest to defund Planned Parenthood, they are trying to eliminate programs like cancer screenings by attacking this health care provider. Federal Courts have agreed that defunding qualified health care providers from providing services under Medicaid because they separately provide abortion services violates federal law.”

Next up was Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, who stood to oppose a laughable amendment from Delegate Bob Marshall to prevent Gov. McAuliffe from using executive action to repeal burdensome clinic regulations (TRAP). Although Governor McAuliffe has no power to repeal TRAP with executive action anyway (so this amendment is essentially nonsense), Delegate Filler-Corn took the opportunity to speak about the importance of women’s health clinics in the state – many of whom are severely threatened by dangerous TRAP regulations. “This amendment is yet another targeted attack on women’s healthcare,” she stated. “Because of the onerous and medically unnecessary TRAP restrictions approved by our body in 2011, thousands of women in the Commonwealth have seen their only option for high-quality, low-cost access to life-saving screenings and health care advice in their community close.”

Last but not least, Delegate Jennifer McClellan took to the floor yesterday to share the heart-wrenching story of a Virginia woman whose pregnancy went tragically wrong when the fetus was diagnosed with incapacitating health complications. When this woman and her husband made the difficult, personal decision to seek abortion, they were lucky enough to be able to afford it.  But as Delegate McClellan pointed out,  budget amendment 4-5.04 #6h would strip funding for abortion for low-income women facing similar tragic situations – and  leave poor women with virtually zero options. “What this amendment does is say that if you are in this tragic situation and you have private insurance, or you have money, you can do what needs to be done,” she said.  “If you are poor – if you are poor – you’re on your own. Ladies and gentleman this is one of the cruelest budget amendments I have ever seen.” 

After the vote yesterday,  pro-choice champion Senator Donald McEachin added this: “I am incredibly disappointed and dismayed that House Republicans voted to defund cancer screenings and preventative care for women across the Commonwealth. You can be sure that the fight to protect women’s health and health care for all Virginians is not over.”

We agree — this fight is far from over. We will be in touch soon with ways to take action against these dangerous amendments, but in the meantime please contact these pro-choice legislators & thank them for their tireless work! To stay updated on these budget amendments as they advance,  sign up for email alerts,  like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter! You can even receive breaking news to your cell phone by texting VACHOICE to 30644!

BREAKING: Help repeal VA mandatory ultrasound law NOW!

Last night, pro-choice Virginians won a huge victory when Lynwood Lewis was officially declared the next state Senator from District 6. With this narrow win, Democrats are poised to possibly take control over the Virginia senate with a 20-20 split and pro-choice champion Ralph Northam as the tie-breaking vote!

Unfortunately, extreme anti-choice politicians will stop at nothing to continue their attacks on Virginians’ health and rights.  While Democrats appear ready to take power over the Senate, a small GOP-controlled subcommittee will attempt one last attack on women’s health — defeating a pro-choice bill to repeal the mandatory ultrasound law!

This is nothing but a sneaky attempt to kill critical pro-choice legislation behind closed doors – and possibly right before power shifts. We need your help RIGHT NOW to fight back: Contact Sen. Newman (Chairman of the Health Care Subcommittee) and tell him to take S.B 617 off of today’s agenda!

Talking points: 

  •  S.B 617  is a common-sense bill to repeal Virginia’s invasive and insulting mandatory ultrasound ban and improve access to healthcare for thousands of women and families.  If passed, SB 617  would return private medical decisions back to patients and doctors – and get politicians out of Virginians’ personal healthcare choices.
  • With the recount results yesterday, it appears that Democrats are poised to take Senate power.  This bill should be given a full hearing by our rightfully elected officials – not sneakily buried behind closed doors.
  • I will be watching closely to see if you act in favor of women’s health and fair government — or if you continue to play games with our basic health and rights. 

In case Sen. Newman refuses to take the bill off the the agenda today, it is critical that we contact other subcommittee members and urge them to support SB 617. Tell these subcommittee members to support SB 617 and repeal Virginia’s ultrasound law now:

Talking points: 

  • We may not all feel the same way about abortion, but we can agree that these are personal, private decisions between a woman, her family, her faith, and her doctor. Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a woman. You can’t make that decision for someone else.
  • Requiring an ultrasound before abortion is about political interference, not informed consent. Information should not be provided with the intent or result of shaming, judging, or making a woman change her mind.
  • Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. Politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy.

Thank you so much for taking action! 

Pro-Choice Candidate Profile: James Harder, District 12

By: Marieke van Rijn, Advocacy and Communications Intern

James Harder is a 5th generation Montgomery County resident, PhD student at Virginia Tech, and a 100% pro-choice candidate. Harder is running against anti-choice incumbent Joseph Yost to represent District 12, which includes Montgomery County, Giles County, and Pulaski County and Radford City, in the Virginia House of Delegates.

James Harder

Harder is the grandson of former delegate Joan Munford, who was a champion of women’s healthcare and reproductive rights during her time. Harder cites the extreme stances Yost took on women’s healthcare as one of the reasons he decided to enter the race. Harder plans to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps to fight for women’s reproductive rights and believes that the discussion of women’s rights should not be limited to reproductive rights- he also plans to advocate for policies that will establish equal pay and maternity leave.

 

While Harder respects a woman’s right to privacy regarding her reproductive decisions and is an advocate for the various other issues that impact the women of Virginia, incumbent Joseph Yost has a very strong anti-choice voting record. Since being elected in 2011, Yost has voted in favor of every bill that would limit a woman’s rights to a safe and legal abortion. Yost voted to support “personhood” legislation, medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and to prohibit state funding for abortion.

Attacks on women’s right to choose were able to take place because delegates like Joseph Yost supported them. Virginia needs delegates that will support women, not the anti-choice agenda. James Harder will be an advocate for women’s issues in Richmond, which is something the women of Virginia need greatly in the wake of the War on Women. We strongly encourage you to volunteer or donate to James Harder’s campaign.

Pro-Choice Candidate Profile: Elizabeth Miller, District 32

By: Marieke van Rijn, Advocacy and Communications Intern

Elizabeth Miller is running to represent the 32nd district in the Virginia House of Delegates. District 32, which encompasses Ashburn in Loudoun County, has been represented by Republican Tag Greason since 2009. Miller is running for delegate because she is “opposed to Tag Greason running unopposed” because she believes that District 32, which is part of a county that has the potential to forecast Virginia’s political future, cannot have someone with such a strong anti-choice voting record run unopposed as Greason did in 2011.

Miller is a political and community activist known for her blogging and knocking on over 30,000 doors while working for over a dozen campaigns. Miller has spent four years on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation and is a 100% pro-choice candidate. She is a champion for choice who believes that the government needs to trust each woman to make choices for themselves, and that the morality of the government intervening in a woman’s personal decisions is the true issue in the choice debate.

Elizabeth Miller

Miller’s opponent Tag Greason has consistently voted anti-choice during his tenure.  Tag Greason’s egregious attacks on women’s rights illustrate how important it is for Elizabeth Miller to be elected to represent the 32nd district. Now more than ever, delegates like Elizabeth Miller are needed in Richmond to speak up for choice so that delegates like Tag Greason and others cannot continue their crusade against women’s rights. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia strongly encourages you to donate your time, money or services to Miller’s campaign.

Pro-Choice Candidate Profile: Kathleen Murphy, District 34

By: Marieke van Rijn, Advocacy and Communications Intern

Kathleen Murphy is challenging Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock for the District 34 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. District 34, which encompasses McLean, Great Falls, and parts of Fairfax and Loudoun County, has been represented by Comstock since 2009. Murphy, a longtime resident of McLean and president of Johnson, Murphy & Associates, is running for the district 34 seat because she believes that Barbara Comstock is not representing the best interests of the 34th district by siding with the extremist Republican majority in Richmond and is “egregious” in her anti-choice voting record.

Murphy has earned the endorsement of being a 100% pro-choice candidate by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia for her belief that women’s rights are human’s rights, and willingness to stand-up to the delegates in Richmond to protect women’s access to contraception and commitment to uphold women’s right to choose. In contrast, incumbent Comstock has a strong anti-choice voting record, having voted in favor of the personhood bill, and in favor of requiring medically unnecessary ultrasounds.

Kathleen Murphy

Despite showing no regard for the health and right of choice of the women in her district, Comstock has currently raised twice as much in campaign funding as Murphy. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia urges constituents of the 34th district to donate their time, services, or money to Murphy’s campaign, because it is imperative that district 34 is represented by someone who will stand up for women’s health and right to choose.

Pro-Choice Candidate Profile: John Bell, District 87

By Marieke van Rijn, Advocacy & Communications Intern

John Bell is a retired Major of the United States Air Force who is running for the District 87 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Bell, a strongly pro-choice Democrat, is running against staunch anti-choice Republican incumbent David Ramadan.

Bell is a 100% pro-choice candidate who believes that medical decisions regarding family planning are deeply personal and not something politicians in Richmond should be involved in. We have proudly endorsed Bell for Delegate, along with our pro-choice partners  Planned Parenthood of Virginia and the Women’s Strike Force.

Defeating Ramadan in this election is incredibly important in ensuring women’s right to choose is protected. Ramadan’s anti-choice voting record is lengthy. From voting for a personhood legislation to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, to supporting medically unnecessary ultrasounds and trying to shut down women’s health centers that offer medical care and cancer-screenings, it is clear that Ramadan’s top priority is attacking women’s health and rights.

District 87, located in the southeast corner of Loudoun County, has been called “the Ohio of Virginia” and is thought to have the potential to have a major impact in the political direction Virginia will go in 2013. Currently, all of Loudoun’s House of Delegate seats are held by anti-choice Republicans, but with Loudoun County backing Obama for president and Kaine for senator in 2012, the county has the potential to lean left again this election. (In 2011, incumbent anti-choice Delegate Ramadan won his election by only 51 votes!)

Women’s choice in Virginia hangs in the balance in the 2013 gubernatorial elections. We strongly encourage you to donate your time and resources to help elect 100% pro-choice candidate John Bell and insure that women’s choice in family planning is kept private and protected in Virginia.

 In fact, you can join NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington DC Action Fund, and the Women’s Strike Force for a reception to support John Bell’s campaign on Saturday, September 28th in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington!

Is Your Legislator Pro-Choice? Check out our 2013 Scorecard!

By Caitlin Bancroft, Legal Intern

When it comes to protecting access to comprehensive reproductive health care, do you know where your state legislator stands?

During the 2012 General Assembly session, Virginia’s legislature shocked the nation with a series of appalling and unapologetic attacks on women’s rights. In the year since, pro-choice advocates and legislators have fought back with gusto. Our amazing pro-choice champions in the House and Senate introduced a total of eleven new pro-choice bills intended to repair some of the damage caused by the 2012 session. Among these 2013 bills was a roll-back of TRAP legislation, removal the mandatory ultrasound law and an attempt to insulate birth control access from further legislative outreach.  Our pro-choice legislators really went to bat for us this year, and we are so grateful for their efforts! Unfortunately, despite the courageous efforts of our allies in the General Assembly, virtually all pro-choice bills were defeated in committee by Virginia’s anti-choice majority. Fortunately there was one bright spot of the session, when House Bill 1876, a pro-choice measure to eliminate the waiting period before voluntary sterilization, was passed by an overwhelming majority.

With critical statewide elections for the coming up this fall, Virginia’s the conservative anti-choice legislators tried to publicly lay off women’s health in the hopes of avoiding the intense media scrutiny that their antics garnered in 2012. Nonetheless they were unable to temper their radicalism. In total, there were five anti-choice bills introduced during the session, which included attempts to limit contraception coverage, institute criminal penalties for sex-selective abortions, and repeal abortion funding for low-income women in cases when the fetus has an incapacitating physical or mental anomaly. Though fewer in number, the bills showed a disturbing trend toward overt attacks on the access of low income women, who already have a harder time accessing healthcare. Fortunately, all of these bills were killed in committee. But just when it seemed we were to escape the season unscathed, the veto session changed everything.  In a heart-breaking vote of 20-19, the Virginia Senate approved an amendment that prohibits any insurance plan sold within the Virginia health benefits exchange from covering abortion care.

The amendment was a ruthless and illogical attack on the autonomy of Virginian women. Under the guise of prohibiting “tax-payer funded abortion,” the senate prohibited them from spending their own money on abortion coverage – a standard benefit in the majority of healthcare plans. The result is that Virginia women must find insurance outside of the exchange and pay much more from comprehensive healthcare coverage. Unfortunately, for the women in Virginia who don’t have the financial resources to shop outside of the exchange, the senate refused to even permit women to buy an abortion coverage rider directly from the insurance company. Despite passing no anti-choice laws in the main session, the season ended on a sour note with the passage of the amendment to HB 1900 and the enactment of the 2011 TRAP laws.

Here’s the good news: this year is an election year and we know that ELECTIONS MATTER! That’s why we’re so excited to present out 2012 – 2013 Voting Record on Choice, your guide to Virginia lawmakers’ votes on reproductive rights over the past two years. Is it so important that every pro-choice Virginian understand all that happened over the past two legislative sessions on women’s health particularly since many of our most extreme anti-choice politicians are up for election. We have watched time and again as these anti-choice politicians have embodied everything that is wrong with politics by abusing their power and advancing an ideological agenda to strip other people’s rights. It’s time for Virginia to hold our legislators accountable and elect legislators who actually represent Virginia’s pro-choice majority!

Read our 2012-2013 scorecard, then contact your legislator and let them know how you feel about their votes on women’s health!

Now and in the lead up to November, it is paramount that we reverse this trend of intrusive laws that govern our right to choose – before it gets worse. Virginia’s anti-choice politicians have shown that they will use every opportunity to pass extreme and unconscionable laws, so we need to make sure we never give them another opportunity.

We know that the majority of Virginians are pro-choice and it’s about time our legislators knew it too. Read our scorecard and contact your legislator now!

Last chance to stand up against McDonnell’s abortion coverage ban before April 3 vote

StopAbortionBanSmallNow is the time to tell the General Assembly: coverage for abortion is a basic part of comprehensive reproductive health care, and Governor McDonnell shouldn’t get to block even more Virginians from access to this coverage to suit his anti-choice agenda.

On Wednesday, April 3, 2013, the Virginia General Assembly will reconvene to vote on all of Governor Bob McDonnell’s vetos and amendments for this session — including his amendments to prohibit any plan being sold in the new health benefits exchange from including coverage for abortion care. The vote could come down to just one or two votes in the state Senate, which means your lawmakers need to hear from you today against this insidious attack on health care and abortion access for tens of thousands of Virginians.

Send an email to your Senator through our website here or find their contact information here to call or email their office directly.

The new health benefits exchanges, created under the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), are designed to be a marketplace where consumers and small businesses can compare private insurance plans and purchase one that works for them.  The aim is to give people who are uninsured or under-insured now a straightforward way to find and access affordable, comprehensive insurance plans.  That’s why it’s so egregious that the governor is undermining this goal by seeking to ban Virginians participating in the exchange from buying truly comprehensive plans that are currently available on the private market.

Coverage for abortion care is an essential part of comprehensive health insurance. Just like coverage for birth control, prenatal care, and maternity care, insurance coverage for abortion gives a woman the ability to make the reproductive decisions that are best for her health, her life, and her family. Insurance companies recognize that — it’s why the majority of private insurance plans in the U.S. market today include abortion coverage. Paying for abortion care out-of-pocket can be prohibitively expensive for many families. This is especially true of more complicated procedures, such as when a woman’s health is at risk or later in pregnancy when the fetus has been diagnosed with severe anomalies — both situations in which McDonnell’s amendment would prohibit Virginians from having coverage through their insurance!

Gov. McDonnell and his anti-choice allies are trying to downplay this amendment. They’re falsely claiming that it’s just about preserving their anti-choice status quo of prohibiting public money from paying for abortion care. In reality, this amendment would go beyond the current standard and affect even Virginians who are using their own funds to pay for the premiums on private health insurance.

The fact is that people who use government subsidies to purchase health insurance through the exchange — just like state employees and Virginians on Medicaid — will unfortunately already be prohibited from having their insurance cover abortion under the federal Affordable Care Act law.  But not all states have not extended this abortion coverage ban to people who will be purchasing health insurance with their own funds through the exchange, as Governor McDonnell wants to do. For instance, just last month Minnesota passed its health exchange legislation without such a ban.

That’s why it’s especially important that your lawmakers hear the facts about what the governor’s abortion coverage amendment would do. They need to know that their constituents like you believe all Virginians deserve the ability to purchase affordable comprehensive health insurance that includes abortion coverage.

by Caroline O’Shea, Deputy Director