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

Governor McDonnell’s Behind-the-Scenes Abortion Ban

Last year, Governor McDonnell faced statewide and national outrage (not to mention ridicule and mockery from the unforgiving world of late-night television) after pushing egregious legislative attacks on the women of Virginia. You would think that after the barrage of media scrutiny and an outpouring of fury from Virginian women, McDonnell might have learned some sort of lesson. Maybe, just maybe, we thought, he would start to trust women to make our own decisions about our bodies, our health, and our lives. Apparently not.

According to the Virginian Pilot, Governor McDonnell is quietly planning a last-minute maneuver to severely restrict Virginian women’s access to health care. How? By attaching anti-choice amendments to H.B.1900 and S.B.921, legislation to implement the Virginia health insurance exchange as set out under the Affordable Care Act.

As part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) all states must construct and/or participate in a health insurance exchange.  This exchange is intended to function as a virtual marketplace, where small businesses and individuals will be able to shop for appropriate and affordable health care. Like all other states, Virginia was given the option to create our own exchange or operate under the federally-run program. Governor McDonnell chose the federal option – with a few exceptions.

According to a letter sent from McDonnell to DC officials yesterday, Virginia will participate in the federal exchange, BUT will maintain decision-making authority over which health care plans are able to participate. As he explains, Virginia state government will continue to have oversight of “whether a health plan or issuer meets particular certification standards”. And his first rule? You guessed it…no coverage for women’s health.

If enacted, McDonnell’s planned amendment would prohibit insurance providers from offering policies in the exchange that cover abortion – coverage that currently exists in almost 90% of plans sold in the private market. In other words, McDonnell’s amendment would make it difficult to impossible for small businesses and individual Virginian women to purchase abortion coverage with private dollars. Instead of improved access to health care (as intended by the Affordable Care Act) many women would see their coverage slashed.

Let’s be clear – this amendment has nothing to do with eliminating public funding for abortion. Obama’s Affordable Care Act already has strict provisions to ensure that no public funds are spent on abortion, and Virginia law already prohibits public funding for abortion except in rare and life-threatening cases. Instead, Governor McDonnell’s amendment would restrict Virginians from purchasing a comprehensive insurance policy with their own private dollars. This is not a matter of government funding, but rather a question of private money – and how the women of Virginia can spend it.

my body my money my choice

We here at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia believe firmly that a woman who decides to have an abortion has the same rights as any other patient seeking any other outpatient procedure. Like every other Virginian, she deserves equal access to the health care she needs.

Furthermore, we know that banning insurance coverage does not reduce the need for abortions; it only creates dangerous outcomes for Virginia women, some of whom may be facing complex and risky pregnancies. While no woman plans on having an abortion,  it is important that she can count on her insurance to cover a full range of health care options. Every Virginian –  every woman –  deserves the ability to make his or her own private medical decisions without interference from the government.

That’s why we are calling on the women of Virginia (and the men who love them) to flood Governor McDonnell’s office with emails and phone calls in opposition to this dangerous amendment. It’s easy to take a stand – simply click here, personalize your message to Governor McDonnell, and enter your name in the box. Then tell your friends, your family members, and your social media contacts (we know you’ve got them) to do the same!

Although this amendment is a clear and outrageous attack on women’s health, Governor McDonnell knows that most Virginians don’t pay attention to every bill that goes through the General Assembly – let alone every amendment. He is counting on this lack of knowledge, which is exactly why we need to expose how dangerous, underhanded, and restrictive this amendment is. Please join NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in taking action now. Together, we will tell Governor McDonnell: Our body, our money, our choice!

General Assembly Update #2: February 9th

This year’s General Assembly is moving pretty fast as we find ourselves approaching the day when successful House and Senate bills crossover into the other body.

We’ve had some tough losses and a few bright spots. Let’s review what’s transpired in the last couple of weeks.

HB1 – “Personhood” 

Del. Bob Marshall’s bill still sits in Del. Dave Albo’s Courts Committee. HB1 may be heard this Friday, Feb 10, so there is still time to reach out to your legislator and Del. Albo to get them to vote against this bill. Del. Albo has voted against “personhood” as recently as 2010, so we’re hoping he still stands with us against this bill. No matter where you live in Virginia, contact Delegate Albo today and ask him as committee chairman to vote against this bill.

HB462 and SB484 – Mandatory Ultrasounds

These bills would force a woman to get an ultrasound before an abortion, regardless of whether she wants one or her doctor says its medically-necessary. This requires women to undergo a potentially invasive and certainly expensive procedure not for any medical reason, but purely to suit an ideological agenda. Del. Byron and Sen. Vogel are slowly advancing these bills towards becoming law. Unfortunately, SB484 has already passed the Senate (read our statement on this) and is headed over to the House. Del. Byron’s HB462 is scheduled to be heard today.

HB62 – Abortion Funding Repeal for Low-Income Women Facing a Fetal Anomaly

Del. Cole’s particularly egregious bill takes away insurance coverage for abortion care from low-income women choosing abortion in the case of severe and incapacitating fetal anomaly, further marginalizing financially-strapped families making a difficult decision. This bill cleared the House of Delegates (read our statement here) and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education and Health Committee. Please contact your legislator or Sen. Harry Blevins to stop this.

HB464 & SB496 – Health Exchange

This bill would have created a health exchange in Virginia while not allowing the sale of health insurance for abortions except when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or in cases of rape or incest. HB464 has already been tabled. SB496 hasn’t been heard yet but could be headed towards a similar fate.

HB1174 – Separate, But Equal, Health Insurance

Del. Marshall wants to make insurance companies offer two different health policies: one with abortion and one without. This bill has yet to be heard as it’s sits, lonely and cold, in the House Commerce and Labor sub-committee #1. It’ll probably stay right there.

HB1285 and SB637 – 20-Week Bans on Abortion

SB637 was heard and defeated on a tie vote, thanks to Sen. Blevins. His abstention caused a 7-7 split vote and the bill could not advance to the full Senate floor. After listening to a personal and tragic story from a woman that faced pregnancy complications, Sen. Blevins decided he couldn’t make a decision as important as she had to make. So he abstained. We’re hoping he does the same thing when HB1285 comes before him. **Update: Del. Richard Anderson has now withdrawn his similar bill from the House of Delegates! This is an exciting pro-choice victory against this extreme and unconstitutional bill. Read our press statement on the defeat of this proposal.**

SB627 – Wrongful Death

Sen. Stanley has introduced a bill that classifies a fetus as a person when it’s a victim of a wrongful death. It’s now sitting in the Senate Education and Health Committee. **Update: This bill has now passed out of committee and will move to the full Senate.**

Remember to contact your Delegate and state Senator and ask them protect women’s rights and health by voting against these anti-choice bills. You can find out who your representatives are and how to contact them here.

Be sure to keep checking our bill chart to stay updated with these pieces of legislation.  You can email me at sean@naralva.org if you have any questions about how to take action!

Thanks – we’ll be back for another legislative update next week!

Take Action: Keep the promise of birth control coverage without a co-pay for all women

While we’re focused on what’s going on here in Virginia, we can’t forget about the attacks on reproductive choice and health that are continuing to take place in Congress and at the federal level.

From our colleagues at NARAL Pro-Choice America, we hear about the latest attempt by anti-choice groups to chip away at advances in women’s reproductive healthcare:

When the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) followed medical experts’ advice and announced that newly issued insurance plans must cover all FDA-approved birth-control methods without a copay, it marked one of the greatest improvements to women’s health in a generation.

Unfortunately, anti-contraception forces are trying to chip away at this achievement.

Led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, these forces have launched a massive campaign to allow employers who oppose contraception to deny their employees a health plan that covers contraception.

Providing insurance coverage that includes birth control without an additional copay is an important preventative and cost-saving way to protect women’s reproductive health and enable them to make personal choices about whether and when to have children.

Ninety-eight percent of American women, of all faiths and backgrounds, will use birth control at some point in their lives. As we know, hormonal birth control can be essential medication not only for enabling women to plan the timing and spacing of their children (which helps improve maternal and child health outcomes), but also for helping women manage other aspects of their reproductive and overall health.

So what if these anti-birth control advocates win? Some women could be denied the benefits of this advance in contraception coverage just because of where they work.

You can help call on the White House today to stand strong with the women of America and make sure birth control coverage without co-pays is available to every woman, regardless of her employer. Take action on the NARAL Pro-Choice America website.

You can also call the White House comment line and give them your input over the phone! Call (202) 456-1111 and say something along the lines of: “I am calling regarding the new policy requiring health-insurance plans to cover birth control without a copay. I am concerned that religious employers may be allowed to opt out of this coverage requirement. I urge the president to ensure that all women have access to contraceptive coverage, regardless of where they work. “

Thank you for taking action!

Grade: Unsatisfactory

The National Women’s Law Center released its latest report card on women’s health initiatives, and the findings are dismal for the nation. While no state received an overall grade of satisfactory, Virginia received an unsatisfactory grade, coming in 15th place. (Vermont and Massachusetts came in first and second place, respectively, receiving satisfactory minus grades.)

Virginia’s unsatisfactory grade confirms what we already know; when politicians like Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (PDF), Governor Bob McDonnell and Delegate Bob Marshall (PDF) choose to play ideological games, women suffer.

Disappointingly, the Center found the percentage of women in counties without an abortion provider increased by ten percent from 47% to 57%, meaning the majority of women in Virginia now do not have access to a local abortion provider. This lack of access can lead to delays in obtaining necessary abortion care.

Think current lack of access is bad news? Well, under the guise of concern for women, anti-abortion opponents are attempting to force 100% of Virginia women to have no access to safe, legal abortion care!

In addition to lack of access to abortion care, the percentage of Virginia women without health insurance also increased, with nearly 20% of women between 18- and 44-years-old without insurance. It is incredibly important that women have access to affordable, vital insurance to both prevent unintended pregnancies and carry healthy pregnancies to term. While the new health care bill will increase the availability of private insurance and Medicaid, out-of-touch Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli opposes supporting low-income women and families, choosing instead to file a lawsuit against the bill fifteen minutes after it was signed.

When our elected officials choose to let ideology trump practical public policy, women’s health suffers. While the disappointing news came at the close of 2010, we know we have our work cut out for us in 2011. Choice in Virginia is under greater threat than ever before. If you are interested in helping us protect choice in the Commonwealth in 2011, check out the website to find out about Pro-Choice Lobby Day, upcoming events, contributing financially or becoming an intern!

Opponents of reproductive choice often go out of their way to block access to affordable, necessary health care. Now that is truly unsatisfactory!