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.

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!

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has its facts wrong. Get the truth!

By Alena Yarmosky, Advocacy and Communications Manager

This is outrageous.

On Friday morning, the Richmond Times Dispatch published an unbelievable and stunningly inaccurate editorial on Governor McDonnell’s recently introduced abortion ban amendment. The editorial recycled Governor McDonnell’s false claims of “taxpayer funded abortion” and completely misrepresented the truth of the matter, all while ignoring the broad and unprecedented impact this ban will have on the health of thousands of Virginia’s women and families. Because it is obvious that that the RTD has been reading anti-choice talking points (and missing the facts), we’re here to set the record straight.

Their take: “[NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia]  says McDonnell’s amendment would block women from purchasing comprehensive health care ‘with their own private dollars. Not so.”

Our take: Um… yes so. If Governor McDonnell’s amendment is enacted, it will prevent thousands of Virginian women from purchasing abortion coverage with their own money.  Here’s how it works:

Virginia law and the Affordable Care Act already ban state-funded coverage for abortion, except in rare & life-threatening instances.

  1. Virginia law already prohibits state- funded health insurance coverage for elective abortions except in cases of rape/incest, fetal abnormality, or when a woman’s life is in jeopardy.
  2. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, does not require any state (including Virginia) to change its current bans on abortion coverage for women who participate in the exchange.
  3. Even if Virginia didn’t already have these bans, the ACA explicitly prohibits any federal funds from being used to pay for abortion coverage in exchanges – with limited exceptions for cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest. To recap, that’s two concrete bans on public funding for abortion: one in Virginia law, and one explicitly outlined under the Affordable Care Act. No public money can or will be used to fund abortions within the new exchanges – period.

Government subsidies (which some Virginians will use to pay for health care through the ACA exchange) are already restricted from paying for abortion (except in the above – rare – instances). 

  1. The ACA requires insurers to keep private dollars completely separate form all federal funds, including federal subsidies. So, imagine that a Virginia woman is receiving government subsidies to help pay for healthcare through the Virginia exchange. If she decides to purchase coverage for abortion care (currently offered in the vast majority of plans), insurers are strictly prohibited from using government subsidies to do so.
  2. What’s more, the private funding used pay for abortion coverage must be kept strictly separate from all government funding. It’s 100% clear: No government money (including government subsidies) can go towards abortion coverage.

Gov. McDonnell’s amendment would ban all insurance companies – even separate policy riders – from providing plans that cover abortion. But we already know that state-funded healthcare cannot cover abortion, and no taxpayer money can go towards abortion coverage within the ACA exchange. What then, does Gov. McDonnell’s amendment actually do? That’s right…block women from purchasing comprehensive health care with private dollars.

It’s obvious, RTD:  This amendment is not about taxpayer funding for abortion.  Current law is clear, and  sadly public funding of abortion care is already forbidden, except in very narrow circumstances. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia believes abortion is basic health care and deserves coverage—both public and private.  But let’s be clear, public funding for abortion is not the issue here!  Instead, this amendment goes far beyond existing law, and imposes unprecedented limitations on private insurance coverage in our state that will block women in our state from getting care they need.

That’s why we’re fighting back. And with all of the myths and misrepresentations flying around, it’s extra important that your Senator understands exactly what Governor McDonnell’s abortion ban does – and what it means for the women of Virginia. Contact your Senator right now and tell him/her to reject McDonnell’s anti-choice amendment!

Together, we’ll set the record straight.

Governor McDonnell moves to ban insurance coverage for abortion in Virginia (Take Action Now!)

by Caroline O’Shea, deputy directorNo Better Health Care for You, Virginia Women

If you’d hoped that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell might be slowing down on his anti-choice agenda in his final year in office — and after all the outrage we’ve seen over attacks he has pushed like the mandatory ultrasound law and targeted regulations on abortion providers — think again.

As we anticipated following reports last month, Governor McDonnell waited until the last possible minute in this year’s legislative calendar to push yet another of his attacks on reproductive rights and health care. Late last night, he introduced amendments on Virginia’s health benefits exchange implementation bills that will ban any insurance plan being sold through the new exchange from including coverage for abortion care. It’s another in a long line of anti-choice policies designed to block women from accessing affordable safe abortion care and to undermine the promise of improved comprehensive health care coverage for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act.

Contact your state Senator now and urge them to oppose Governor McDonnell’s abortion coverage ban.

If the General Assembly approves these amendments to HB1900/SB921 (see the amendment text here), Gov. McDonnell’s abortion coverage ban would block the thousands of Virginians who will be purchasing insurance plans through the exchange from choosing to buy private plans that include abortion coverage — a basic benefit currently included in the vast majority of private insurance plans in the U.S. market. It will even prohibit them from buying a separate policy rider to cover abortion! Continue reading

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!

Abortion is like WHAT?!? Sen. Dick Black is at it again

Hey Virginia, remember Sen. Dick Black? You know, our favorite state Senator who as former Delegate became infamous for handing out plastic fetuses on the floor, dismissing the concept of marital rape and referring to contraception as “baby pesticides“?

Well, he’s back. And after his most recent comments, we doubt you’ll forget him again.

This Tuesday, as hundreds of pro-choice Virginians rallied at the Capitol to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Sen. Dick Black took to the floor and actually compared abortion clinics to “Auschwitz”.  Let me repeat that. Forty years after abortion became legal in the United States, Sen. Black likened what is a constitutional, safe, and common medical procedure to NAZI GERMANY.

Watch the video:

This is nothing short of appalling.   Not only are Senator Black’s comments extremely offensive to my family and the families of the millions of people (yes – living, breathing, thinking, loving people) who were senselessly killed in the tragedy of the Holocaust, this sort of attack is part of a troubling and ever-expanding strategy to demonize the women of Virginia and the doctors who serve them.

In honor of 40 years of Roe v. Wade, please donate $40 to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in Sen. Black’s name. We will send him a personal letter from you demanding an apology, and of course, thank him for the generous contribution made on his behalf.

Sen. Dick Black is not an outlier – not some sort of “bad apple” who happened to put his foot in his mouth. As is obvious after watching the Virginia General Assembly launch attack after attack on women’s health,  plenty of others in the Statehouse hold a similar disdain for a woman’s right to choose when and whether to have children. In fact, there are undoubtedly those in Virginia’s government who wouldn’t hesitate to join the Senator in comparing reproductive health to mass genocide and trained physicians to murderers.

So here we are. Forty years ago, women in Virginia and across the country were ingesting lye, hitting themselves with baseball bats, and throwing themselves down the stairs in order to end a pregnancy. Now, forty years after Roe v. Wade codified safe, legal abortion care, lawmakers like Sen. Black will stop at nothing to bring us back.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia will not go back. We will not allow women to die without access to reproductive healthcare, and we will not allow lawmakers like Sen. Black to impose their dangerous ideals onto the women and families of the Commonwealth.

Please join us in continuing this fight. Donate $40 to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in honor of forty years of Roe v. Wade,  and we will send Senator Black a personal letter from you demanding an immediate apology.

Thank you for everything you do.

Alena Yarmosky

Advocacy & Communications Manager, NARAL Pro-Choice 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!

Victory against “Personhood”…but the fight goes on!

Ladies and gentleman,

We have a victory on our hands! And I’m not just talking about the election — although obviously, WE ARE PUMPED. But even considering the recent reelection of pro-choice President Obama (and of course the fact that Virginia  stayed blue), this victory is still pretty huge.

Let’s start with some background. During the 2012 General Assembly session, notorious anti-choice Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) introduced H.B. 1, a bill to state that life begins at conception – and grant “personhood” status to fertilized eggs. Unsurprisingly, H.B. 1 (also known as “personhood”)  was an incredibly dangerous threat to the health and rights of Virginia women.

If passed, H.B. 1 would lay the legal groundwork to ban abortion without exception – even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the woman.  Even more extreme, “personhood”  could ban most common and FDA-approved forms of birth control, and would even outlaw some infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization.  Ultimately “personhood” would force doctors to put the well-being of a fetus before the life and health of a living, breathing, thinking woman – even in cases of severe pregnancy complications. Considering the recent and tragic death of Savita Halappanavar,  who died after being denied access to life-saving  abortion care, it’s obvious how scary this is.
In February of this year, the Virginia House of Delegates passed H.B. 1 by a vote of 66-32 (also terrifying). But thankfully, after thousands of pro-choice Virginians rallied against “personhood”, the Senate decided to “continue” H.B. 1 to the 2013 legislative session. It was a great day for women’s rights in Virginia…but we knew we couldn’t get too comfortable. After all H.B. 1 was – and still is – technically alive.
Sen. Steve Martin, Chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, has until this Thursday, November 29, to hold a hearing on H.B.1. If the hearing is held and the bill voted out of committee, “personhood” legislation will move to the full Senate for a vote – and the women of Virginia will  be one step closer to losing critical reproductive rights. Another scary prospect…and one we definitely did NOT want to see happen in Virginia.

So last week, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia asked our supporters and allies to write a message to state Sen. Martin telling him to pull “personhood” from the 2013 agenda. Our response was overwhelming –  over 720 pro-choice Virginians took a break from their holiday and told Sen. Martin to stop with the crazy attacks on women’s health and keep H.B. 1 off of the table for good.

Now for that victory part: IT WORKED! After receiving more than 700 emails from angry Virginians, Sen. Martin had apparently had enough. Thanks to you, he will not hear the bill before Thursday’s deadline – and H.B. 1 will officially die.

We know we have a lot more work to do. Del. Bob Marshall has already introduced some extreme anti-choice bills for the 2013 session, and he is likely to re-introduce “personhood” as well. But today we are happy, relieved, and so proud of everyone who helped us win this important victory. With 2013 around the corner, let’s keep it up: 

Stop Attorney Gen. Cuccinelli & Urge the Board of Health: Put Medicine Before Politics!

Just when we thought sanity might have returned to Virginia’s government… Govenor McDonnell & Attorney General Cuccinelli are at it again.

Earlier this summer, the Virginia Board of Health voted to amend a key provision of proposed TRAP regulations (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) to exempt existing women’s health centers from burdensome and politically-motivated construction requirements. The amended TRAP regulations (while still posing a serious threat to the privacy and security of patients and providers) were a huge victory for Virginia women.  By amending proposed TRAP regulations to “grandfather in” existing clinics, it is estimated that the Board saved more than twenty women’s health centers across the state from being forced to close their doors.

The Board’s vote was legally sound, constitutional, and medically correct.  But on July 16, Attorney General Cuccinelli announced that he would refuse to certify the amended regulations. His reasoning? According to a letter sent from Cuccinelli to Dr. Karen Remley, commissioner of the Virginia Dept. of Health, in voting to amend TRAP regulations, the Board had “exceeded its authority.”

Reason (and law) show that the Board acted precisely within its authority: Virginia law directs the Board to enact regulations “consistent with the current edition of the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Hospital and Health Care Facilities.” The June 15 decision to amend TRAP (and exempt existing health centers from costly construction requirements) is absolutely “consistent with” the guidelines as written.

Let’s call like it is – Attorney General Cuccinelli rejected the Board’s decision not for any medical or legal reason, but simply because it flew in the face of his anti-choice political agenda. In voting to exempt existing health centers from TRAP regulations, the Board of Health protected access to reproductive health services (including safe abortion) for thousands of women across the Commonwealth. Apparently you can have the constitution, law, and medical community on your side, but dare to protect women’s access to health care? You’re overruled.

Since then, AG Cuccinelli has pulled out every trick in the book to essentially veto the Board’s vote – even though such an action is unconstitutional and blatantly in violation of Virginia law. Now, after months of pressuring the Board to reverse their decision, Cuccinelli is forcing them to meet again and reconsider the proposed TRAP regulations. This time, he hopes to bully the Board of Health into toeing his political line – and putting women’s reproductive health-care back in the line of fire.

We need your help to urge the Board of Health to stand strong against the Attorney General’s bullying! Together, we must take action to stop this administration’s anti-choice agenda before it threatens the health of thousands of Virginia women.

Ways to help:

Looking for more up-to-the-minute information and more ways to get involved? Follow the Va Coalition on Twitter!

Attorney General Wrong to Reject Changes to Regulations for Women’s Health Centers

by Chris Lewis, legal intern:

On Monday, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced that his office would not certify the regulations for first-trimester abortion providers passed by the Board of Health in June.  In a memo sent to Health Commissioner Karen Remley, Mr. Cuccinelli claimed that the board overstepped its authority by inserting a “grandfather clause” that exempted existing facilities from the onerous regulations forced through by anti-choice activists.  However, there is nothing in the law that supports Mr. Cuccinelli’s interpretation, and this is yet another example of the Attorney General using his position to advance his anti-abortion crusade.

The Office of the Attorney General has two responsibilities with regard to the adoption of regulations in Virginia.  The first is to serve as that agency’s counsel and provide legal advice during the promulgation of new regulations.  The second is to certify that those regulations are within the agency’s authority.  In no way should the Attorney General’s personal feelings on matters of policy come into play.  The job of the Virginia General Assembly and the various state agencies is to enact policy.  The job of the Attorney General is to provide legal advice to those entities.  If Mr. Cuccinelli wants to have a say in rule-making, he should have never left the state Senate.

The Attorney General claims that the law requires that all clinics must meet the new regulations.  However, Senate Bill 924–which classified abortion clinics as hospitals subject to regulation–does not include this requirement.  It merely adds clinics to the list of facilities that are subject to regulation by the Board of Health.  The law leaves it to the board (comprised mainly of medical professionals) to use their expertise and knowledge to craft rules that will best serve the Commonwealth.  Using this discretion, the board amended the regulations to include only new and renovated facilities, a move that brought the regulations closer to the intent of the experts who wrote the building guidelines as well as keeping with precedent.

Mr. Cuccinelli’s move flies in the face of previous building regulation in Virginia. Typically, all existing facilities are “grandfathered” in and are not subject to new rules.  In fact, the Attorney General’s representative at the June meeting admitted that new regulations have never   been applied to already-constructed buildings.  With neither the law nor precedent supporting his move, Mr. Cuccinelli is clearly taking an activist position and acting solely in the interest of his personal politics.

With the refusal to certify, the regulations will return to the Board of Health to be addressed again – mostly likely in September.  Be sure to contact the board members to encourage them not to submit to political pressure and to once again put medical science and women’s health ahead of personal politics. You can find out more information and many ways to take action at the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health website.