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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Caroline O’Shea, Deputy Director

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.

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!

Headline of the Week: Private Insurance to FULLY Cover Birth Control, Well-Woman Doctors Visits, and More!

By Brooke

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced their new guidelines for women’s health care coverage. There will be many changes, the most notable being full coverage of birth control pills under all private insurance plans.

As of August 1st, 2012, private insurance companies must cover preventative services for women without co-pay. According to White House advisor Stephanie Cutter, “We know that half of women, according to studies, forego or delay preventive care because they can’t afford it and under the affordable care act that all changes.” Hopefully this situation will change for the better as of August 2012.

Other services that will be covered include diabetes screenings, well-woman doctor’s visits, domestic violence screenings and the morning-after pill.

This decision comes in the wake of a well-publicized, sexist rant from commentator Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly spoke out against access to no-cost birth control, saying that “Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex, and they’re not going to use birth control anyway.” Luckily, common sense overcame such negative and derogatory rhetoric.

These new guidelines are a big step toward accessible healthcare for all women in the US. We join NARAL Pro-Choice America in applauding the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for looking past stereotypes and misinformation about contraception and making improvement of women’s healthcare a top priority.

As Ms. Cutter noted, “Today is about keeping women healthy.”

The War Against Women: Coming to a Town Near You

By Brooke

Yesterday, Amanda Iacone of Virginia Statehouse News published an article documenting the war on women that is occurring locally as well as on a national level.

Several states have pursued “copycat” legislation with the overall goal of limiting women’s access to reproductive healthcare. (Copycat laws are just that – laws passed in one state to further restrict women’s health that another state copies.)

Virginia is no exception.

Banning abortion coverage through private insurance exchanges is just one example of such legislation across the country and in Virginia.

Virginia women have also been subjected to TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) laws that passed in the last session of the General Assembly; a type of legislation that Virginia Statehouse News calls “one of the most common methods lawmakers use to curb the number of abortions by limiting women’s access or shutting down the providers.”

President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Nancy Keenan, was featured in the article, calling out politicians who came into office with big promises of job creation and economic relief, but have thus far only delivered attacks on women’s rights. Keenan stated: “In (the) next 18 months, I think you’re going to see a backlash of the public. First they thought this was about jobs and the economy — it really has been more about outlawing abortion care in this country.”

The fear for Virginia women and families now lies in the potential for other copycat legislation. Virginia’s anti-choice elected officials put Virginia at risk of anti-choice legislation that has been seen in other areas of the country such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood, requirements that women wait up to 72 hours before abortions, or even criminalization of doctors who perform abortions.

To see the damage that has been done by anti-choice officials in the General Assembly and Governor McDonnell’s administration regarding this war against women, check out our “The McDonnell Administration’s War on Women’s Health: By the Numbers” video. Don’t forget to see how you state legislator stacks up on women’s health issues by reviewing our 2011 Legislative Scorecard.

Summer Intern Series Part 2: Sex & Politics in the Capital City

By Brooke

This summer, Advocates for Youth, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, Choice USA and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS), along with partner organizations are holding a series of lunchtime talks for DC-area interns working for organizations with similar goals.

In yesterday’s third segment of Sex & Politics in theCapitalCity, the topic was “Understanding the Attacks on Federally Funded Programs: Discussion on Title X, Medicaid and the Role of Organizations.”

A principal theme of this week’s talk was that there is a national war occurring against women and, more specifically, minority women. The luncheon was led by a panel with representatives from the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, the National Health Law Program, and the DC Abortion Fund.

A lot of our discussion centered on the topic of reproductive healthcare for poverty-stricken minority groups. There was a clear focus on the impact that funding cuts to Title X and Medicaid specifically will have on women’s reproductive health and the perpetuation of poverty amongst minorities.

Because 60 percent of people receiving Medicaid are minorities, these funding cuts are affecting minorities the most. Movements to defund Planned Parenthood and other women’s health centers are also affecting minority women disproportionately because minority women are more likely to use a publically funded facility.

A great point made about these funding cuts to healthcare services is that they have been specifically focused on reproductive healthcare, creating segregation between general healthcare and reproductive healthcare. The problem? Reproductive healthcare is healthcare!

What I really took away from this presentation was how much influence politicians have on our rights. If this worries you too, help us support pro-choice candidates who have women’s reproductive rights in mind.

June Volunteer Orientation

By Brooke

We would like to send out a big thank you to everyone who came out for our second quarterly volunteer orientation last night! Attendees ate delicious pizza and received a thorough review of the current status of reproductive rights in Virginia and in the US. We have seen so many attacks on women’s health this year, from bans on private insurance coverage of abortion to attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. These attacks prove again that the people we have in office play a crucial role in shaping the future of women’s health inVirginia.

That is why the 2011 statewide elections inVirginiaare critical. Last night was one opportunity to stay involved and informed.

To show our volunteers some tools for working on issues, Jenny from the Virginia Civic Engagement Table  stopped by to give a talk on virtual phone banking, which allowsVirginia to get involved from home.

Virginia voters should remember that the primary will take place on August 23 and Election Day is November 8. For information on registration, polling locations, and more, please visit the Virginia State Board of Elections. For information on candidates and redistricting, see VPAP.org. To see how state elected officials voted in the recent session, please reference our 2011 Legislative Scorecard and be on the lookout for our next Virginia Political Pro(choice)files blog post!

If you are interested in volunteering and/or have not yet signed up for our Volunteer e-Newsletter please contact Joey Richards. Our next Volunteer Orientation will be held in September.

Reproductive Rights in the News: Week of June 6

By Brooke

Here are some quick highlights from reproductive rights in the news this week:

http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/economy-dominates-gathering-of-social-conservatives-20110604

This post in the National Journal highlights the speakers at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, DC last weekend. As expected, many conservative politicians spoke out on social issues, attempting to garner support from the religious right. Politicians Michele Bachmann (check out her call to defund Planned Parenthood around the 1:23 mark), R-Minn., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, both emphasized the importance of their own views against abortion, and former Ambassador to China, John Huntsman, went so far as using the story his daughter’s adoption to rally the audience around his anti-choice views stating, “There is something more essential than politics and that is life, specifically a child’s life.” This emphasis on social issues has become typical of today’s Republican Party and the Faith and Freedom Conference proved to be the perfect venue for broadcasting anti-choice views.

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https://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2011/06/movement-treat-fetuses-people-gains-ground

An article from the Associated Press this week recognized the growing trend in reproductive rights politics to include fetuses under the legal definition of personhood in state constitutions. Under this new definition, states could pave the way for the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade. Although such legislative movements go against federal law, anti-choice supporters believe the resulting lawsuits have the potential to spark change that could significantly obstruct women’s reproductive freedom. On Monday, a similar bill was rejected in Maine, although it specified that the definition would only change in the event of an assault perpetrated against a pregnant woman. Pro-choice advocates were opposed to this bill as Maine’s constitution already intensifies punishments for assaults against pregnant women and this type of bill would be a catalyst for a law that would consider a fetus to be under the definition of personhood in any situation.

Bills to grant such “personhood” rights failed in the 2011 Virginia General Assembly.

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http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2011/jun/04/TDOPIN01-letters-to-the-editor-ar-1084324/

In a letter to the editor from the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week, Hopewell resident Mary K. Martin took on the subject (also addressed here) of how new, national healthcare legislation has the potential to hurt women and small businesses. Martin worries that businesses in Virginia will be hit especially hard by this bill, either having to pay a large fee for coverage that includes abortion (even in cases where the life of the mother is threatened) or waste time shopping around for a different plan that could be much more expensive. Martin calls this bill part of a “narrow social agenda that hurts women and penalizes small businesses.”

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http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_PLANNED_PARENTHOOD_INDIANA?SITE=VARIT&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Another issue grabbing headlines this week has been the controversy occurring between the state of Indiana and federal Medicaid offices. This is due to the new state law eliminating some of Planned Parenthood’s public funding. The issue has been taken to court and U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is expected to make a ruling by the end of the month. If the new law is upheld, seven of Indiana’s 28 Planned Parenthood health centers could close. The law specifically stops Medicaid from covering abortions and, while the state is arguing that this should not inhibit Planned Parenthood’s other services, it would be difficult to prevent incidental funding overlap for supplies and preparations that are used for abortions as well as other Planned Parenthood services. Representatives from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU believe that this law must be repealed in order to protect Planned Parenthood on both a national and statewide level.

Why Pro-Choice Votes are so Important

By Brooke

At the York Democratic Banquet on May 14th, Delegate Robin Abbott, D-Newport News and Senator Mamie Locke, D-Hampton discussed the importance of Democrats supporting reproductive rights in Virginia. This comes in the wake of bans on private insurance coverage of abortion care and new, unwarranted regulations on abortion providers during the 2011 Virginia General Assembly session. Both could severely undercut Virginia women’s access to safe, legal and vital reproductive health care. Some Virginia Democrats attribute this painful loss for women’s health advocates directly to the anti-choice votes of Democratic Senators, Charles Colgan, D-Prince William and Phillip Puckett, D-Russell. If just one of these senators voted with their party, both measures would have failed. As Delegate Abbott stated at the banquet, “I feel like we’ve stepped back 40 years and we need to work hard to turn this trend back around.”

It is clear that the way our state elected officials vote has a direct impact on continued access to reproductive healthcare. To find out more about how your legislators voted on reproductive choice issues during this year’s session, be sure to check out our 2011 Legislative Scorecard. Let’s be sure to thank our allies and let those who oppose comprehensive reproductive health care for Virginia women know how we feel as well.

What Happened and What is Ahead?

By Sara Cardelle

Once a year, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia hosts a Legislative Debriefing event following the General Assembly session as an opportunity for our members and activists to meet and hear from our pro-choice legislature allies. This year, we had nearly 40 pro-choice supporters, which is our largest attendance to date. The audience had an opportunity to hear from six senators and delegates who spoke about our victories and defeats and what lies ahead for reproductive rights in the state of Virginia. (Be sure to check out photos from the event here.)

For the last four months I have been watching the General Assembly and the unfolding of the anti-reproductive rights plan to attack a woman’s right to choose in Virginia. I have watched live videos of anti-reproductive health bills on the floor and heard our allies as well as anti-choice legislator’s debate on the bills. So for me, it was an incredible opportunity to hear from six of our strong pro-choice allies as they shared their stories and views from the session. I especially found it sad but interesting that only a handful of conservative organizations have the power to scare many of our legislators into never voting in support for any reproductive rights issues, and that this hold has only gotten stronger in the last year or so. It was an amazing experience to be in a room full of passionate and excited people who care so strongly about reproductive rights. I left the event feeling unbelievably empowered by all of the attendees and legislatures.

This year’s speakers included:

  • Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington, Senate Democratic Caucus Chair
  • Senator George Barker, D-Fairfax
  • Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, Reproductive Rights Caucus Chair
  • Delegate Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria
  • Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax
  • Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, Progressive Caucus Chair

Each speaker had a different topic, so I want to hit the highlights for me of their presentations.

Delegate Ebbin talked about how important the 2011 elections are going to be in protecting and defending reproductive rights in Virginia over the next several years. He also spoke about the current redistricting battle going on in the House of Delegates and state Senate, which, come election time, could lead to an increase in the number of legislators opposed to comprehensive health care for Virginia women.

Delegate Watts talked about Senate Bill 924, which calls for the Board of Health to regulate facilities providing five or more first-trimester abortions per month as a category of hospital. She noted new regulations could not just affect abortion providers, but also OB/GYN offices. Describing recent attacks against women’s health care, she stated that this is the “worst year that I have seen [regarding] abortion legislation.“

Delegate Hope talked about a bill he patroned this year, HB 1488, which prohibits a correctional facility from using restraints (shackles) on any prisoner who is pregnant and in labor. The exception would exclude women who are a flight risk or pose serious harm to herself or others. This bill was tabled in the Military, Police and Public Safety Committee.  Even though the bill was defeated this year, Delegate Hope stated the discussion led to a meeting he and other members will have with the Director of the Department of Corrections to get further guidance and create better regulations.

Delegate Herring spoke of one of the bills she patroned, which was HB 2436. The bill stated that any qualified health benefits plan offered through an exchange shall be neither required to provide nor prohibited from providing insurance coverage for abortion services. This bill was a proactive bill to prevent anticipated bans on private insurance coverage for abortion services. Unfortunately, her bill was tabled in committee. Sadly, we did see a ban on private insurance coverage of abortion care, in the form of Governor McDonnell’s amendment to House Bill 2434, which would have simply created the state’s insurance exchange.

Senator Whipple discussed the TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) bill and the importance of the Senate Committee on Education and Health in defeating anti-choice legislation. She stated that many negative bills pass the House, but are defeated by women’s health allies in the Senate Committee on Education and Health. Several years ago, legislators wrote into the rules of the Senate that any bills related to abortion would automatically have to go to this Committee, which has been able to defeat a multitude of anti-reproductive-rights bills (even when the Committee had a Republican* majority).

Senator Barker talked about one of the positives coming out of this year’s 2011 General Assembly, which was Senate Bill 967. This bill would have added Family Life Education to the standards of learning guidelines and required all FLE programs be medically-accurate and science-based. The bill passed the full Senate and was defeated by a tie vote in House sub-committee (which is great progress). Senator Barker noted FLE has helped reduce teen pregnancy by a large percent. He also explained how some more moderate representatives used to vote for reproductive rights in the past but are now under extraordinary pressure from conservative organizations to vote no on any reproductive right bills. The fear is that any conservative legislator who votes even once for reproductive rights will automatically have a primary challenger who will most likely beat them in the primaries. Senator Barker said that “if we were able to have secret votes on the floor of the Senate on these types of bills, then we would have 25 to 30 votes on every one of these bills, to kill these bad bills.”

I, like many of the attendees, left this year’s Legislative Debriefing feeling passionate and angry over the current erosion of reproductive rights. This is an important time for people to get angry and to fight back, as reproductive rights are under attack all across the country right now. (In fact, 916 bills dealing with reproductive rights have been proposed across the country this year alone.) Anti-choice groups are no longer looking to outright overturn Roe v. Wade because they know that they can whittle down reproductive rights through the states, one bill at a time. This is why it is so important for Virginians to volunteer for pro-choice candidates in the summer and fall and to come out and vote for pro-choice candidates in this year’s statewide election.

As a helpful guide to know how your legislator ranks, we had a first glimpse of our 2011 scorecard during the debriefing. The scorecard allows you to see how your elected official stacks up on choice. Check back soon to see the full scorecard online.

*Supporting access to comprehensive reproductive health care options is not a partisan issue.

The Panel Presents the Status of Choice

Pro-Choice Allies Speak to the Group