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.

Rally to Support Falls Church Healthcare Center Against TRAP

We had a great time today at the rally in Arlington to support the Falls Church Healthcare Center (FCHC) in the first stages of its lawsuit protesting targeted regulations against abortion providers pushed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Here’s the link to our Storify story compiling pictures, videos, and social media about the rally. Join us next time and check out our events page for more opportunities to support choice!

Young activists at the rally!

Young activists at the rally!

 

Outrageous: Virginia Board of Health approves dangerous TRAP regs

By Sandra Sanchez, Advocacy and Communications Intern

In an 11 to 2 vote last Friday, the Virginia Board of Health bowed to pressure from Attorney General Cuccinelli and  approved targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP), burdensome regulations on women’s health centers which threaten to close the majority of Virginia abortion providers as early as 2014. After two years of fighting against these unnecessary and onerous regulations, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our colleagues across the Commonwealth are outraged at the result of Friday’s meeting. Because of the Board’s decision to put politics over safe, legal, and accessible health care,  there will be devastating consequences for the women of Virginia.

virginia-trapHow did we get to this point? As many of you know, we have been fighting these dangerous regulations for more than two years. But even before TRAP was introduced, the idea of targeted regulations on abortion providers has been in Virginia politics for quite some time. Ken Cuccinelli, previous state senator and current Attorney General infamous for constructing & bullying these regulations into law, pioneered the idea of TRAP in 2003. During his time in the General Assembly Cuccinelli introduced TRAP legislation no fewer than four times –  in 2003, 2004, 2005, 444and 2006. After numerous failures, Cuccinelli was openly proud of the passage of TRAP in 2011, stating that “Today, a long, hard-fought battle for women’s health and dignity has finally been won in the State Senate”, and praising the bill as an “Abortion Clinic Safety Bill”. Of course, you and I know that TRAP regulations have absolutely nothing to do with women’s health and safety.  Considering his track record, I don’t trust that Cuccinelli has ever cared about the battle for women’s rights, much less the safety and dignity of the women of Virginia.

After passage of TRAP legislation, the saga continued. During the summer of 2012, the Virginia Board of Health decided to grandfather-in existing clinics from these burdensome regulations, essentially saving them from having to comply with unnecessary and expensive architectural requirements. This move was well within the Board’s authority and was supported by scientific-based evidence as well as decades of precedent: never before have building regulations been forced on existing facilities – particularly regulations that have nothing to do with patient care and are not required of any other outpatient clinic (or even hospital) in the Commonwealth. But of course, AG Cuccinelli was not having that.  Instead of following the advice of Virginia’s doctors, lawyers, and medical experts, he decided to bully and threaten the Board into changing their minds. Unfortunately, it worked. In September the Board caved to pressure and reversed it’s earlier decision by voting to approve politically-motivated TRAP regulations for existing women’s health centers in Virginia.

Since then, the regulations have gone through an executive review process, and — as expected – have been signed by Attorney General Cuccinelli and Governor McDonnell. TRAP regulations also underwent a 60-day untitled3public comment period, where they faced overwhelming opposition from the people of Virginia. Almost 200 Virginia doctors publicly denounced the regulations, including Dr. James “Jef” Ferguson of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, former state health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley, and an additional six Virginia state health officials who represent over 30 years of public health leadership in the commonwealth. And of the nearly 6,000 comments submitted during the public comment period, a vast majority (81%) opposed the regulations. It didn’t matter.

Despite everything, the Board voted on Friday to approve TRAP and subject  women’s health centers to unprecedented and politically-motivated regulations. Because of their vote, the majority  of Virginia’s abortion providers could close as early as next year.

If you’re like me, you’re devastated. The consequences of these regulations are terrifying, and to be frank, make me enraged. Due to TRAP, thousands of Virginia women will lose access to safe and legal abortion care, as well as a wide range of other critical reproductive health services. They’ll be forced to drive dozens of miles to find the essential medical care they need, and may even have to go out of state to access their constitutional right to an  abortion. Let’s be clear: These regulations were designed implemented, and enforced with one purpose and one purpose only — to close Virginia clinics and restrict access to critical women’s health care.  And if you’ve been following the events of the past two years, you know that Virginia has already mandated a forced–ultrasound requirement as well as a restrictive and unnecessary 24-hour waiting period. Combine these demeaning restrictions with newly-passed TRAP regulations,  and you’re left with a dire climate of women’s health restrictions.

It saddens me that the Board of Health decided to put politics over women’s health and vote to close our clinics. It saddens me that even after over 200 doctors and thousands of Virginia residents publicly denounced these regulations, the Board of Health looked over its shoulder at Cuccinelli and voted yes.  But what saddens me the most is that Virginia’s brave, exemplary, and compassionate abortion providers will likely begin to close.  Thousands of women across Virginia will lose access to critical health care — and that is the worst of all.

Stop Attorney General Cuccinelli & help us keep our clinics open!

By Alena Yarmosky, Advocacy & Communications Manager

This Friday, the fate of women’s health and safety in Virginia will be decided.

The Virginia Board of Health will meet on Friday April 12th for its final vote on TRAP regulations, politically motivated and burdensome hospital construction requirements that could force the majority of Virginia’s women’s health centers to close as early as next year.

RSVP to join us in Richmond THIS FRIDAY to stand for women’s health!

Last spring, Virginia women won a huge victory when the Board of Health voted to exempt existing abortion providers from these ridiculous and unnecessary construction requirements. But that wasn’t good enough for Attorney General Cuccinelli, who used every trick in the book – including pressure tactics, legal fiction, and outright lies – to bully the Board into changing their minds.

keep our clinics open

Now, the Board of Health is set to make its final decision on the fate of women’s health in the Commonwealth – and it’s critical that you are there to stand with us!

You and I know the truth: from day one AG Cuccinelli has been pulling the strings behind the scenes, and has used his office to corrupt what should be a scientific and evidence based regulatory process. Now, he is even refusing to resign as Attorney General while running for Governor, a tradition 9 of his predecessors have embraced.

Is Cuccinelli staying on as AG just to make sure TRAP regulations pass…and our clinics are forced to close? We wouldn’t be surprised – and it’s absolutely critical that we’re prepared. Please join us on Friday to fight TRAP and take a final stand in the battle for Virginia women’s health.

Feel free to email me with questions or for more information! I hope to see you there!!

Statewide poll shows majority of Virginians oppose TRAP

beck research

va coalition for womens health logoThe Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health, which is made up of state and national women’s health advocates and providers and chaired by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia,  commissioned a public opinion survey from Beck Research, LLC on burdensome targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP).  Beck Research LLC then conducted an independent representative phone survey of Virginia adults, aged 18 and older, to determine their feelings on Virginia TRAP regulations.

As you may know, proposed TRAP regulations single out Virginia women’s health centers and force them to comply with onerous hospital-standard construction requirements that are completely unrelated to patient safety — and required of no other outpatient health center in Virginia. If enacted as written, TRAP regulations could shutter the majority of Virginia’s women’s health centers as early as next year.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our colleagues within the Va. Coalition to Protect Women’s Health  have known for quite a while that these regulations are not endorsed by doctors and medical experts in Virginia. However, before these unnecessary, politically-motivated regulations become permanent, we really wanted to understand how the men and women of Virginia feel about them.

Now that the results are in, our understanding is clear:  The majority of Virginians oppose these regulations. And further, the opposition is shared across partisan lines.

Our new survey demonstrates that Virginians strongly oppose changing the building requirements for women’s health care centers that offer first-trimester abortions, the subject of final decision-making by the Virginia Board of Health on April 12. The majority opposition to the new regulations carries across partisan boundaries – most Republicans, Independents and Democrats disapprove of the regulations. Further, an overwhelming majority of Virginians say they trust doctors and medical experts about health care, not politicians (including the Virginia legislature, Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli).

Who Virginians trust on health care regulations, vs. who is making the decisions right now

This survey demonstrates that Virginians want doctors and medical experts, not elected officials, to make medical decisions and set health regulations.  The majority of Virginians (58%) oppose the new building requirements for first-trimester abortion services, compared to 35% who favor them. Three-quarters of Virginians (75%) agree that private medical decisions should be made by women, their families and doctors.  Doctors and medical experts are trusted sources of information on health care in Virginia, while Virginians are reluctant to look to their elected officials for health guidance.

These results are based on a survey fielded February 20-24 among a total of 500 Virginia adults, aged 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 4.4%. The survey employed a random digit dial (RDD) sample and contains landline and cell phone interviews. The margin of error is +/- 4.4%.

  • Virginians do not want elected officials to overstep and prefer that medical experts set medical regulations. Doctors and medical experts are universally trusted about health care in Virginia; 95% of Virginians trust doctors (56% very much) and 93% trust medical experts (51% very much). In contrast, Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Cuccinelli are the least trusted sources on health care in Virginia. Just 41% of Virginians trust the governor and 38% trust the AG; 52% do not trust McDonnell or Cuccinelli very much or at all on health care.
    • Virginians also agree by a wide 69%-to-23% margin that “medical experts should set all medical regulations, including those regarding first trimester abortion” over “elected officials should contribute to medical regulations, especially those regarding first trimester abortion.”
  • By a two-to-one margin, Virginians oppose changing the building requirements for women’s health centers that offer first-trimester abortions. When asked with no explanation of the regulations (see question 7), 46% of Virginians oppose the proposal, including 33% that strongly oppose it.  In contrast, only 22% favor it, including just 11% who strongly favor the proposal. An equal proportion of Virginians are unsure about the proposal; 22% are either undecided or unable to answer the question.
  • A broad coalition of Virginians opposes the proposal from the outset. Democrats, older women (women 50 and over), and African-Americans are some of the strongest opponents, but Republicans oppose the proposal by 24-points and Independents by 13-points (see Appendix A for full results). After additional information explaining the proposal in more detail (see question 8), a majority (58%) of Virginians opposes the measure and 35% support it; just seven percent are undecided or unsure (see Appendix B for question wording). The proposal continues to be opposed by a 23-point margin. At the end of the survey, after arguments for and against the proposal, opposition grows, with 62% opposing the proposal and 31% supporting it.
  • At the conclusion, the proposal remains unpopular across demographic groups and by self-identified partisanship. Democrats oppose it by a wide margin (71% oppose), but a majority of Republicans (57%), Independents (59%), conservatives (57%), and white Born Again Christians (57%) also dislike the proposal.
  • Virginians are not eager to restrict abortion; majority think abortion should be legal. A majority of Virginians thinks abortion should be legal, including 28% who think it should be legal in all cases.  Only 38% think abortion should be illegal and just 15% report that abortion should be illegal in all cases. In addition, Virginians see abortion as a private matter. By a wide three-to-one margin (75%-to-22%), Virginians agree “private medical decisions should be made by a woman, her family and her doctor” over “abortion is bigger than any single woman’s medical decision.”

Want to see the full poll? Check out the official results here!

Pro-Choice Day of Action

Last Thursday, the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition held our annual statewide Pro-Choice Day of Action!

This year we focused our advocacy efforts on two main issues. First, we advocated in support of  legislative efforts to implement Medicaid extension in the Virginia’s budget, which would ensure that an additional 400,000 Virginians have access to basic health care, including cancer screenings and birth control. Second, we encouraged all pro-choice Virginians to submit a public comment against proposed targeted regulations on abortion providers (also known as TRAP regulations). If approved as written, TRAP regulations would require Virginia’s women’s health centers  to meet medically-unnecessary hospital style standards (not required of any other health care facility in the Commonwealth) and would force the majority of our women’s health centers to close.

JMU Faces 4 Choice

With the help of hundreds of Virginians and reproductive health advocates, we’re happy to report a very successful Day of Action:

  • 245 emails to General Assembly members to support the Medicaid extension
  • 162 activists to support Medicaid extension; 140 whom pledged to contact their Senator
  • At least 35 public comments to oppose TRAP
  • Over 1,700 phone calls to activists on Medicaid extension
  • Over 50 volunteer shifts at 5 different regional phone banks throughout Virginia, including locations in Roanoke, Richmond, Charlottesville, Arlington, and Washington, DC.

In addition, the VA Pro-Choice Coalition also worked with student activists to hold advocacy events on 5 Virginia college campuses, including Virginia Tech, University of Mary Washington, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Richmond! Highlights include James Madison University’s “Faces of Choice” campaign (in which our campus intern  Sarah had dozens of her fellow students explain why they are pro-choice and proud), and University of Richmond’s  “I’m Pro-Choice because…” photo campaign & TRAP education. We also have to give a shutout to the University of Mary Washington, where our campus intern Taylor gave out a pyramid of  “Choice Out Loud” swag and worked to engaged her peers on the importance of pro-choice, pro-women policy. We are so proud of our incredible campus representatives and the amazing work they did!!

From tabling, to phone banking, to everything in between – this year’s Day of Action was a huge success! THANK YOU for helping us tell our Representatives in the General Assembly: We are Virginia and we are pro-choice!

im prochoice bc U of R

Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition Tweetchat!

This Thursday,  Feb. 7th, is the Virginia Pro-Choice Day of Action….and we are PUMPED.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia is so excited to join our fellow women’s health advocates and activists in locations across the Commonwealth as we fight for reproductive rights and critical access to health care. With events in Arlington, Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Richmond, Roanoke, and DC, there are a TON of opportunities for you to get involved this Thursday! Check out our registration page for more details, including shift times, locations, and directions. We can’t wait to see you there!

Stuck at work or at home on Thursday? No worries – there are plenty of ways for you to take action online. This year, we are happy to announce our Day of Action Tweetchat, which will take place from 1-2pm!

DOA Tweetchat

On Thursday at this time, Virginia’s health care providers, pro-choice organizations, and women’s rights activists will be live-tweeting about the status of reproductive rights, choice, and access in VA – and how we can ensure safe, affordable, and accessible health care for all.

We will also have some special guests joining us, including: WIN (@WINonline), fabulous feminist bloggers & activists Erin Matson (@ErinToTheMax) and Jessica Pieklo (@hegemommy), superstar women’s rights advocate Lily Bolourian (@LilyBolourian), and others!

Join the conversation this Thursday from 1-2pm by following us (@NARALvirginia) and using the hashtag #4healthVA. We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the ongoing fight for Virginia’s reproductive health!

Members of the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition:

PCC coaltion orgs

Virginia NOW, Progress VA, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, Unite Women Virginia, National Council of Jewish Women of Virginia, Jewish Community Relations Council of Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, League of Women Voters of Virginia, American Association of University Women of Virginia

Tell Your Senator to Pass Pro-Choice Legislation NOW!

If we are going to have a shot at turning back last year’s overwhelming tide of anti-choice legislation, we need your help right nowOver the past two years, Virginia’s  lawmakers have passed some of the most stringent restrictions on  reproductive rights in the county.  We all remember 2012′s outright War on Virginia Women: attempts to grant “personhood” status to fertilized eggs, attempts to force trans-vaginal ultrasounds on women seeking safe legal abortion care, and even a bill to ban abortion outright at 20 weeks – with no real exemption for the health or life of the mother.

Now, we’re fighting back. Our pro-choice allies in the General Assembly have introduced legislation to protect women’s rights, ensure access to reproductive health care, and repeal the worst of last year’s attacks:

  • Sen. Ralph Northam and Sen. Barbara Favola have introduced legislation  (SB 1080 and SB 1082) in the Senate to repeal Virginia’s invasive forced ultrasound law, which currently forces Virginia women to undergo a mandatory ultrasound 24 hours before accessing her constitutionally-protected right to an abortion.
  • Sen. Mark Herring has introduced SB 1115 and SB 1116, which would repeal and negate onerous and burdensome targeted regulations (TRAP)  on women’s health centers in Virginia. If not repealed, TRAP regulations will likely force the majority of Virginia’s women’s health clinics to shut their doors.
  • Sen. Donald McEachin has introduced the Birth Control Protection Act (SB 783), to formally distinguish between FDA-approved methods of contraception and abortion. Without a formal definition, anti-choice lawmakers can continue to blur the line between birth control and abortion, and may attempt to restrict birth control as stringently as abortion.

If passed, these bills will help restore reproductive rights, protect women’s health, and  make a positive difference for thousands of Virginian women. But first, each bill must be passed by the Senate Education and Health Committee if they are to continue to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Every one of our pro-choice bills in the Senate (including every one mentioned above) will be heard in the Senate Ed & Health committee this Thursday, January 17. If these important bills have even the slightest shot at becoming law, they must be approved by Committee on Thursday.

TAKE ACTION NOW: If your Senator serves on this committee,  tell him or her to support these critical pro-choice bills! Here is the list of Senators on the Education and Health Committee who will be considering these bills:

If you are unsure who your Senator is, please go here to find out. 

If your Senator is serving on the Ed & Health Committee (and will be voting on these bills Thursday), now is the time to CONTACT. Email or call your Senator and urge them to vote in support of these bills and send this important legislation to the Senate floor! 

Sample letter to your Senator:

Dear Senator [NAME],

As your constituent, I’m contacting you today to urge you to vote in support of SB 1082, SB 1080, SB . 1115, SB 1116 and SB 783. If passed these bills will protect reproductive rights, repeal Virginia’s most burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on women’s health, and increase access to essential medical care for thousands of Virginian women.

Currently, Virginia’s forced ultrasound law inappropriately inserts the government into the homes and doctor’s offices of women and their families.  This law marks the first time the Virginia General Assembly has mandated a diagnostic test that supersedes a doctor’s advice and a patient’s consent, and represents a significant road block for women seeking to access their constitutionally protect right to an abortion. SB 1080 and SB 1082 would repeal and negate this law and ensure that Virginian women are given the support and respect they deserve.  Please vote in favor of these bills.

Senate Bill 1115 and Senate Bill 1116 would eliminate the law passed in 2011 that requires women’s health clinics to comply with the construction standards of new hospitals.  Targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP) are burdensome, medically unnecessary, and nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to shut down Virginia’s women’s health clinics.  First trimester abortions are among the safest of all medical procedures, and  Virginia’s women’s health centers  have exemplary health records and have been inspected and listened by the Virginia Department of Health. If passed, SB 1115 and SB 1116 would ensure that the majority of women’s health centers remain open and continue to provide essential medical care. Please support these bills.

Finally, please vote in favor of SB 783, the Birth Control Protection Act. Currently, the Code of Virginia does not distinguish between FDA-approved methods of contraception and abortion. In absence of a clear definition, there have been attempts to blur the lines between contraception and abortion, as well as limit access to family planning services under the code section relating to abortion. Contraception is basic health care for women, and is used by virtually every sexually active woman of reproductive age.  It is essential that birth control remains safe, accessible, and affordable for the women of Virginia.

Again, I urge you to stand with the women of Virginia and your district in supporting these critically important bills.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

[Your home address]

Thank you for taking action! Please help us spread the word to your Virginia friends, neighbors, and family members. To stay updated, “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for up-to-the minute news from the halls of the General Assembly. And don’t forget to join us and hundreds of other pro-choice Virginians to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade at the “Rally for Choice” at the Capitol in Richmond on Tuesday, January 22 at 10 a.m!

Pro-Choice on Campus: Update from Virginia Commonwealth University

This fall 2012 semester at Virginia Commonwealth University has been an active one in terms of pro-choice advocacy and activism. It started off with a rally at the Virginia Board of Health on September 14th, to show Virginia legislators that won’t put up with this TRAP (Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers). Despite our efforts, the Board voted to approve legislation that will greatly diminish access to abortion in the future, and because of this, VCU students are riled up and want to know more. As VCU campus intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, I reigned in that energy and answered many questions.  12th&Del

I spent the next month, before the voter registration cut-off date, talking to students about pro-choice representation and the power of the youth vote.  I teamed up with some of our campus’ social justice organizations that were tabling in the campus commons—while they were registering students to vote, I chatted with them about anti-choice laws in Virginia and in the nation.

In November, I held a documentary showing of 12th & Delaware, a documentary showing the hardships of women tricked into going into a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) across the street from an abortion clinic and of women trying to get into the abortion clinic, past the protesters from the CPC. After the showing, the many attendees’ questions were answered and a lively discussion was had about those who end up going to Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Virginia as a huge barrier to reproductive freedom.

Since VCU has a big art school and thriving art community, In December I created a gallery style infoshop in the Student Art Space in the student commons. Students, on their way to and from class or on their way to study for exams, popped in to see the display I had set up. Dangling frosafiya1m the ceiling, near the entrance of the art space, I printed out and hung stories of women facing barriers to abortion services in Virginia. On the wall hung the eleven common lies that Crisis Pregnancy Centers tell to women with unwanted pregnancies in order to convince them out of abortions. On pedastals throught the gallery, there were spreads of pamphlets and stickers from NARAL Pro-Choice’s #TruthFail campaign. Curious students were shocked by the outlandish lies of CPCs and touched by the real women’s stories. The info displayed in the info/art show provoked many great conversations about the realities of abortion access.

At the very end of the semester I wrote an opinion piece for the school newspaper, The Commonwealth Times. For the 2012/2013 school year, the student handbook/calendar had two advertisements of local Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Since CPCs prey on college-aged students, I let it be known that such ads are inappropriate and unwanted. My goal in writing the piece was to urge students and administrators alike to speak out against advertisements for fake clinics that could potentially jeopardize the health of VCU students.

This semester, as I worked to raise awareness of issues I am passionate about, I turns out I learned a lot myself. I learneCPCreadingd how easy it is to forget that while many are in the know about issues surrounding abortion access, many still aren’t. I learned how easy it is to engage people in a conversation about issues they might not know to be relevant to them. I learned how fun it is to work hard advocating for reproductive health and raising awareness about the barriers to abortion that exist regardless of law. As many consciousness-raising conversations as I had with other students on my campus, there is still much work to be done in the quest for true reproductive freedom.

Virginia Women Trapped by Board of Health Decision

Hi Everyone:

My name is Alena Yarmosky and I am the new Advocacy & Communications Manager with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.  I joined the NARAL VA team two weeks ago, and have loved getting to know all of our amazing volunteers and supporters. I look forward to working with you all in the coming weeks and months!

Unfortunately, it has been a tough few days for us here at NARAL Pro-Choice VA, and for women all over the state. At the Virginia Board of Health meeting last Friday (September 14) the Board of Health voted to subject existing women’s health centers to burdensome and medically-unnecessary TRAP regulations.

These proposed construction requirements (now approved by the Board) have nothing to do with protecting women’s health and safety, and are instead designed to force health centers across the state to close. Renovations to meet TRAP regulations could cost millions of dollars, and are simply not an option for many of Virginia’s health centers. If signed into law, TRAP regulations could force over 15 clinics to shut their doors, and keep thousands of Virginia women from accessing essential medical care.

We have activist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to blame. Cuccinelli has done everything in his power (and many things beyond his legal and constitutional authority) to bully the Board into reversing its June decision and imposing restrictive TRAP regulations. Five Board of Health members caved to his pressure tactics and switched their votes, with a total of 13 out of  15 members voting to put Cuccienlli’s political agenda before medical fact (Jim Edmonson and Dr. Anna Jeng were the only two who stood strong).

Even worse, Friday’s Board meeting was a blatant denial of public comment and the democratic process. Time for public input was slashed in half, and hundreds of pro-choice activists and experts were shut out of the building despite repeated requests to move the meeting to a location that could accommodate all participants.

Unfortunately we can’t be too surprised by the Board’s vote, or by this administration’s blatant disregard for women’s health and rights. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Governor Bob McDonnell have spent their careers putting an anti-choice political agenda before health, safety, and Virginia law. AG Cuccinelli has publicly stated that his goal is to end abortion in Virginia, and his brazen actions over the last three months have shown us just how serious he is.

We may have lost the battle, but the fight for women’s health is just beginning.

In the coming months, we will continue to fight TRAP before it becomes law. But as the state legislative session draws nearer, Virgina women will again find themselves the target of anti-choice legislators determined to play doctor and erode critical access to reproductive health care.

We will face “personhood”, a bill that could outlaw birth control, common fertility treatments, and abortion  – even in cases of rape or incest. We will face attempts to end abortion after 20 weeks, attempts to ban insurance companies from covering reproductive services, and continued attempts to close clinics through endless bureaucratic hoops and bounds of red tape.

We have to fight back! As Advocacy & Communications Manager here at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, fighting for women’s health (through phone banking, canvassing, voter drives and more) is a large part of my job. But we need you to stand with us.

Please email me to sign up to volunteer, or if you’re interested in learning more about NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s plans for the fall. I look forward to working with you all, and continuing our fight for women’s health.