Attorney General Cuccinelli: practicing medicine without a license?

By Staff

This weekend, we got more evidence that Virginia’s new regulations singling out abortion providers are about one thing only: a political agenda to eliminate access to safe, legal abortion in Virginia.

On Saturday, Larry O’Dell of the Associated Press released a story titled, “Some medical advisors question abortion rules.” The story focused on the medical professionals and educators who advised the Virginia Department of Health in developing targeted regulations on abortion providers following the passage of S.B. 924 earlier this year.

The point of the story was simple and clear: the regulations now on the governor’s desk awaiting his approval are drastically different than those recommended by a panel of medical professionals and originally drafted by the Department of  Health, in ways that make them excessively difficult for abortion providers to meet and would force many of them to close.

We’re wondering what happened. And we’re not the only ones. One of the medical professionals on the advisory panel expressed his confusion:

Dr. James E. Ferguson II, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Virginia…said the document adopted by the board in September went well beyond what the advisory panel recommended. “I don’t know where they got changed, but ultimately they were different, more stringent and more restrictive – and several of them, at least, unnecessary,” Ferguson said.

Those of us who were at the Board of Health meeting in September saw Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office hijack deliberations in order to make the regulations as far-reaching as possible.

The new article highlights some specific ways Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office worked to turn medical suggestions for targeted regulations that would have at least been related to medical science into an overreaching, ideologically-motivated attack on abortion access. Let’s take a look at a couple medical recommendations Cuccinelli’s office rejected:

Medical recommendation 1: Allow existing facilities to be “grandfathered” in to building requirements.

This would mean that, according to the AP article, existing offices “would not be held to standards that were not in place when they opened.” No other existing medical facilities in Virginia are required to be retrofitted to meet new construction codes.

Ken Cuccinelli’s view: “New strict building standards – which cover things like hallway widths and covered entrances – are mandated by state law.”

Medical advice: Rejected.

Medical recommendation 2: Limit regulations to offices providing surgical abortion and exempt offices that only provide medical abortion.

This would mean that offices offering medication abortion would not be subject to the same strict building requirements as an office providing surgery — a commonsense exception that would have excluded providers that do not even do surgical procedures from having to adhere to hospital-style regulations.

Ken Cuccinelli’s view: “State law makes no distinction between medical and surgical abortions so the board can’t either.”

Medical advice: Rejected

The bottom line: Attorney General Cuccinelli’s office continues overreaching to push these regulations to their most extreme possible form, disregarding sound medical science and the expertise of health professionals in his pursuit of a backdoor ban on access to abortion in Virginia.

If you haven’t yet, contact Governor McDonnell or write a  letter to the editor of your local paper to express your concern about anti-choice ideology trumping sound medical science and women’s healthcare needs in the crafting of these regulations.

Pro-Choice Candidate of the Day: Pamela Danner, House District 34

by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia guest blogger Brett Copeland

We’re less than two weeks away from one of the biggest elections for reproductive choice in Virginia in years. On Tuesday, November 8, Virginians will go to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats. All this week on the blog, we are spotlighting pro-choice candidates of the day in key races across the state, so you know who will stand up for women’s rights and health in Richmond and who we’re working to help elect this fall!

Pamela Danner

We continue today’s focus on House of Delegates races in House District 34, which is made up of the northern end of Fairfax County along the Potomac River and a corner of Loudoun County. It runs from McLean through Tysons Corner and Great Falls.

In this race, Pamela Danner is the pro-choice candidate.

Pamela Danner, who has lived in McLean for 25 years, is a strong and adamant champion for women’s rights and health and access to safe, legal abortion. She supports access to affordable and common-sense family planning and health care options for Virginians. As she notes on her website, “Pamela believes that deeply personal issues like abortion are between a woman and her doctor and that government should not be controlling these decisions.”

She also has the experience to solve issues facing Northern Virginia. Her work at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as a lawyer, and as a long-time community activist and leader gives Pamela the knowledge and perspective Virginians need in a legislator.

But don’t take just take our word for it: Not only did NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC and The Washington Post endorse Danner, but she also has endorsements from pro-choice and women’s political organizations like EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Women’s Campaign Fund and The Farm Team.

Pamela Danner is running against anti-choice incumbent Delegate Barbara Comstock. As we pointed out two years ago when Comstock was first running to unseat pro-choice Delegate Margi Vanderhye, she has a track record of extreme views on abortion access and reproductive health care. She has received a score of 0% rating on NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s legislative scorecard in both her sessions in office. In this year’s General Assembly session, she voted to:

  • Single out women’s health centers for politically-motivated new regulations that place women’s access to safe, legal abortion in jeopardy. (SB 924 and HB 1428)
  • Grant constitutional rights to zygotes, effectively banning legal abortion and many FDA-approved birth control methods. (House Bill 1440)
  • Prevent a woman from using her own money in the free market to purchase private insurance that would cover abortion care. (House Bill 2147, House Bill 2434)
  • Restore money to failed abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs for Virginia youth. (House Bill 1500, amended)

During her campaign, Pamela Danner has been working to expose Del. Comstock’s record of supporting the McDonnell-Cuccinelli anti-choice agenda and pointing out that her positions on these issues are far outside the mainstream of constituents in the 34th District.

One thing is clear in the Commonwealth: We are living in an era that requires creative solutions to complex problems. However, at a time when Virginians are concerned with jobs, transportation and education, anti-choice officials focus on dismantling access to affordable, safe abortion and reproductive care.

We know Pamela Danner will focus on issues that matter to Virginians in the 34th district and be a strong pro-choice leader in Richmond. Learn how you can get involved to get out the pro-choice vote by visiting our Elections page.  Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8 and remind all your pro-choice friends to do the same!

Posted by the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Pro-Choice Candidate of the Day: Senator John Edwards, Senate District 21

We’re just two weeks away from one of the biggest elections for reproductive choice in Virginia in years. On Tuesday, November 8, Virginians across the state will go to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats. All this week on the blog, we are spotlighting pro-choice candidates of the day in key races across the state, so you know who will stand up for women’s health in Richmond and who we’re working to help elect this fall!

Welcome back to our pro-choice candidate of the day spotlight! Earlier today, we told you about the importance of re-electing pro-choice champion Senator Edd Houck.

Sen. John Edwards

For our second spotlighted pro-choice candidate of the day, we travel to the southwest corner of Virginia to Senate District 21. SD-21 covers the cities of Roanoke and Blacksburg and parts of Montgomery, Roanoke and Giles counties.

In this race, Senator John Edwards is the pro-choice candidate.

Senator Edwards, a Roanoke native and long-time public servant, has been a constant 100-percent pro-choice champion during his 15 years in the state Senate. Earlier this year, he stood up against politically-motivated regulations that place women’s access to abortion in jeopardy.

Senator Edwards, like Senator Houck, is a member of the vital Senate Committee on Education and Health, which frequently checks Governor McDonnell’s relentless anti-choice agenda.

Senator Edwards’ opponent is anti-choice state Delegate Dave Nutter. Delegate Nutter consistently scores zero-percent on our annual legislative scorecard.  In this year’s General Assembly session alone, Delegate Nutter voted in favor of four anti-choice bills or amendments.

While Senator Edwards was standing up for women’s rights and health during the 2011 legislative session, Delegate Nutter voted to:

  • Single out women’s health centers for politically-motivated new regulations that place women’s access to safe, legal abortion in jeopardy. (SB 924)
  • Grant constitutional rights to zygotes, effectively banning legal abortion and many FDA-approved birth control methods. (House Bill 1440)
  • Prevent a woman from using her own money in the free market to purchase private insurance that would cover abortion care. (House Bill 2147, House Bill 2434)
  • Restore money to failed abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs for Virginia youth. (House Bill 1500, amended)

Because Virginia’s state Senate is “mixed-choice,” we cannot afford to lose even one pro-choice vote this November — especially not to a staunchly anti-choice politician like Delegate Nutter. As a long-time champion of women’s health, Senator Edwards will continue to make sure the government does not intrude into the private medical decisions of Virginia women.

We know that Senator John Edwards will continue to be a strong pro-choice leader in Richmond. Learn how you can get involved to get out the pro-choice vote by visiting our Elections page.  Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8 and remind all your pro-choice friends to do the same!

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC staff. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Pro-Choice Candidate of the Day: Senator Edd Houck, Senate District 17

We’re just over two weeks away from one of the biggest elections for reproductive choice in Virginia in years. On Tuesday, November 8, Virginians across the state will go to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats. All this week on the blog, we’ll be spotlighting pro-choice candidates of the day in key races across the state, so you know who will stand up for women’s health in Richmond and who we’re working to help elect this fall!

Senator Edd Houck

Today we continue our series by heading to Senate District 17, which stretches between Fredericksburg and Charlottesville, containing the City of Fredericksburg, all of Orange County, and portions of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albermarle counties.

In this race, Senator Edd Houck is the pro-choice candidate.

Senator Houck has been in the state Senate for over 25 years and has been a constant, tireless champion for women’s health. Senator Houck is the chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Health, the committee where bills dealing with abortion and reproductive choice and health go in the state Senate. Strong pro-choice leadership on this committee is one of the last obstacles in the General Assembly to stop the anti-choice agenda of Governor Bob McDonnell and his allies. That’s part of the reason anti-choice politicians are working so hard to unseat Senator Houck.

Senator Houck is running against anti-choice candidate Bryce Reeves. Reeves has the support of some of Virginia’s most zealous anti-choice politicians (including Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli) and of the national Family Research Council Action PAC, a group founded by Focus on the Family extremist James Dobson. We can be sure Reeves would toe the line on the radical McDonnell-Cuccinelli agenda in Richmond.

Senator Houck is a strong champion for reproductive freedom, privacy, and the health of women and their families. His constituents in District 17 – as well as Virginians all across the state – need his continued leadership in the state Senate.

As we’ve noted before, Virginia’s state Senate is currently what we call “mixed-choice.” When votes on abortion and other reproductive rights issues come to the floor of the Senate, we do not have a reliable pro-choice majority. We saw the real consequences of this scenario earlier this year as anti-choice legislators snuck through S.B. 924, a bill singling out women’s health centers for new, politically-motivated regulations. As a long-time champion of women’s health, Senator Houck voted against this law because he recognized these regulations for what they are – government intrusion into the private medical decisions of Virginia women that would actually put women’s health and rights in greater danger.

Senator Edd Houck is strong pro-choice leader in Richmond. Learn how you can get involved to get out the pro-choice vote by visiting our Elections page.  Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8 and remind all your pro-choice friends to do the same!

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC staff. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Pro-Choice Candidate of the Day: Shawn Mitchell, Senate District 13

We’re just over two weeks away from one of the biggest elections for reproductive choice in Virginia in years. On Tuesday, November 8, Virginians across the state will go to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats. All this week on the blog, we’ll be spotlighting pro-choice candidates in key races across the state, so you know who will stand up for women’s health in Richmond and who we’re working to help elect this fall!

First, we turn our eyes to Senate District 13, a new Senate seat created by this year’s redistricting process that contains portions of Loudoun County and Prince William County.

In this race, Shawn Mitchell is the pro-choice candidate.

Shawn is a small-business owner and veteran who will stand up for the continued health and safety of all women of Virginia. Shawn will join other pro-choice allies in the General Assembly in fighting for women to have continued access to safe, legal abortion and other reproductive health care.

So why is the race in Senate District 13 so important?

First, Virginia’s state Senate is currently what we call “mixed-choice.” That means when votes on abortion and choice come to the floor of the Senate, we do not have a reliable pro-choice majority. We often see a 20-20 tie, with anti-choice Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling casting the deciding vote. We saw this scenario play out earlier this year as anti-choice legislators snuck through S.B. 924, a bill singling out women’s health centers for new, politically-motivated regulations.

As Senator, Shawn Mitchell will represent an additional crucial pro-choice vote – a vote that can help stop the anti-choice agenda of Governor Bob McDonnell and his allies and protect access to vital health care for Virginia women.

But here’s the other thing: Shawn is running against one of the most extreme anti-choice candidates in the state – former Delegate Dick Black. As we reminded you last week, Dick Black is beyond zealous in his anti-choice views. He was already ousted from the House of Delegates in 2005 because of his extremism and his single-minded focus on restricting reproductive freedom at the expense of other issues that matter to his constituents. He’s remembered for distributing plastic fetus dolls to fellow lawmakers, seeking to ban abortion in all circumstances, and even attacking access to birth control! We cannot allow him back in Richmond.

Shawn Mitchell represents a much-needed pro-choice vote in Richmond. Learn how you can get involved to get out the pro-choice vote by visiting our Elections page.  Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8 and remind all your pro-choice friends to do the same!

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC staff. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Understanding the regulatory process

By Kerry

In case you missed it while preparing for Hurricane Irene, the Virginia Department of Health released its much anticipated draft emergency regulations last Friday for women’s health centers providing first-trimester abortions. As NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia executive director, Tarina Keene told Mother Jones earlier this week, the proposed regulations as currently drafted will impose unduly strict, burdensome facility requirements on women’s health centers performing at least five first-trimester abortions a month:

 “It would be challenging for the majority of our facilities to continue offering first-trimester care,” Keene said. “These are designed to really cease first-trimester abortion services in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The regulations are the product of SB 924, which narrowly passed the state Senate and was signed into law by Governor McDonnell last March.

Understanding the process and timeline for these regulations is one of the most confusing aspects of this issue. When singling out women’s health in SB 924, anti-choice lawmakers in Virginia took advantage of a special “emergency regulations” process which enabled them to mandate that the new rules be implemented within 280 days. By utilizing this emergency procedure, the draft regulations can take effect while permanent regulations are still being formulated – a drawn-out process that can take over two years.

A major concern of this fast-track process is the fact that there will be very little time for the public and health care professionals to offer feedback on the regulations before the Board of Health votes on them.  With the Board set to vote during its September 15th meeting, that leaves only a few weeks for concerned citizens and advocates to submit written comments. More troubling still, there will only be one limited opportunity for oral comments before the vote, which will take place at the September 15th meeting just before the Board members consider the draft regulations.

Should the Board of Health approve the draft regulations, the new rules will still be subject to an “executive review” by Gov. McDonnell, the attorney general, the Virginia secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Planning and Budget. Depending on whether they opt for revisions, the emergency regulations will then take effect on or after January 1, 2011 and can remain in effect for a maximum of 18 months.

Fortunately, the public will have at least a bit more room to voice their concerns when it comes to the process for the permanent regulations. Here’s a rundown of how it will work:

1)      The Board of Health will file another “Notice of Intended Regulatory Action,” this time for the permanent replacement regulations, which will be followed by a 30-day comment period. As stated in Friday’s Notice of Intended Regulatory Action for the emergency regulations, the Board plans to hold one or more public hearings on the issue.

2)      After this initial comment period, the Board of Health will file proposed permanent regulations, which will then be followed by a 60-day comment period. The Board also have the opportunity to appoint a special regulatory advisory panel in order to seek out professional opinions on the matter, although, they don’t plan to do so (at least not at this time). During this extended feedback period, the Board is also free to modify the regulations, and if they do so, the public will get another 30 days to offer comments.

3)      Once the comment period is up, the Board of Health will publish a final version of the permanent regulations in the Virginia Register. The publication date marks the start of the “executive review” period for the permanent regulations during which the governor or the committees of jurisdiction in the Virginia General Assembly can file objections to the regulations. If either decides to file an objection, it will be published in the Register, and the Board of Health will then have 21 days to respond.  Should both the legislature and the governor file objections, they can stop the clock – i.e. suspend the date the regulations become effective. If no such objections are raised, the regulations will be implemented at the end of the “executive review” period.

Quite a complex process before all this is said an done. But before we even get to permanent regulations, we have a lot of work ahead with the emergency regulations.

What can you do to stand up for women’s health in light of these politically-motivated regulations that could detrimentally affect access to health care for Virginia women?

We must continue to stand up for women’s health

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

As we wrote yesterday, women’s health centers in Virginia will soon be subject to new, politically-motivated regulations.

An article in yesterday’s Chesterfield Observer further discussed the upcoming new regulations:

Senate Bill 924 passed the General Assembly earlier this year, requiring all health facilities that perform five or more first trimester abortions per month to meet the same standards as a hospital.

The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell as an emergency regulation, will go into effect Dec. 31. Seen by some as a health issue and others as a way to shut down abortion clinics that can’t afford to meet the requirements, the Virginia Department of Health currently is working on preliminary regulations to give to the State Board of Health on Sept. 15.

Anti-choice officials in Virginia have been undermining women’s health in our state for years. Now they’ve chosen to single out doctors who provide abortion for additional regulation, despite the fact first-trimester abortion remains one of the safest in-office medical procedures and despite the strong safety records of women’s health centers in Virginia.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s executive director Tarina Keene cut to the heart of the issue:

“We are appalled at these repeated attacks on women’s health,” stated Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, via email. “Gov. McDonnell and his legislative cohorts have pursued a singleminded agenda to undercut women’s health in our state. There are no legitimate medical purposes for singling out abortion for further regulation. … [The] new regulations have nothing to do with women’s safety and everything to do with a political attempt to restrict access to reproductive healthcare.”

Elected officials and anti-choice groups who have spent years railing against abortion and attempting to impose additional restrictions on reproductive rights in Virginia now claim they are just trying to make abortion – an already-safe procedure – safer!

But we aren’t fooled. We know this is just another tactic in the overall anti-choice strategy of chipping away at reproductive rights and making it as difficult as possible for women to practically access abortion care.

If there was any doubt about their motives, the same article reminds us of the motivations of the groups that supported SB 924 and are now pushing for medically-unnecessary regulations:

“Olivia Gans, a spokesperson for the Virginia Society for Human Life, says the organization hopes the General Assembly will pursue further legislation to prohibit abortions.

We are pleased that the legislature realizes the seriousness of this issue,” Gans said. “As a mother who had an abortion, I’m deeply concerned … with the number of women who have abortions.”

Rather than working to decrease rates of unintended pregnancy – perhaps by pursuing policies that would provide access to affordable birth control, promote comprehensive, medically-accurate sex education or better support women who choose to parent – anti-choice lawmakers are instead seeking to decrease the number of legal abortions by simply keeping women from accessing quality reproductive healthcare.

We have to stand up and let the Board of Health and the governor know we will not stand for new regulations that are focused on a political agenda rather than the health and wellbeing of Virginia women.

Join us as we stand up for women’s health in Virginia:

As Tarina points out, “If political motives and ideological passions interfere in the regulatory process, then the safety of women’s health may be jeopardized.”

The launch of a new campaign to take on Gov. McDonnell

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia

Virginia’s Governor McDonnell is moving onto the national stage as the new chair of the Republican Governor’s Association.

According to Politico:

[Texas Governor Rick Perry will] be joined by Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, who will replace him as chairman of the Republican Governors Association — a perch that is all but guaranteed to boost McDonnell’s political fortunes by providing a national platform and access to a fundraising network that would be useful in a future run for higher office.

The article goes on to describe McDonnell as a “pragmatic conservative”:

In his nearly two years in office, the Virginia governor has carefully positioned himself as a pragmatic conservative who is fixated on job creation (not the social issues that were important to his early political rise) and capable of working with Democrats to get big things done.

However, we know that McDonnell is focused on social issues, especially when it comes to attempts to undermine the health of Virginia women.

In March, Governor McDonnell signed SB 924, a bill that classifies women’s health centers in the state as a category of hospitals, making them subject to new regulations created by the Department of Health. These laws, called “TRAP laws” for Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, single out abortion providers for new, burdensome regulations.

These laws play politics with women’s health and safety.

After Gov. McDonnell signed the bill into law in March, the “emergency” process for new regulations began; a process meant to limit public comment and participation.

These new regulations could have devastating consequences for women throughout Virginia.

The process will move quickly, which is why we are pleased to announce the launch of the http://www.coalitionforwomenshealth.org/” target=”_blank”>Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health website!

The website is a great resource for keeping up with the latest activities regarding new regulations, remembering important dates and learning the latest ways you can get involved to stand up for women’s health in Virginia.

After the Board of Health votes on draft regulation in their September 15th meeting, the regulations will be in the hands of Governor McDonnell. He can then make changes before adopting final regulations.

We have to make sure that any regulations are based in medicine, not politics.

So be sure to visit the website and sign the petition today to help us keep the pressure on the Governor to support regulations based in medicine, not in politics!

Join the nearly 700 Virginians asking Gov. McDonnell not to play politics with women's health

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

Lesson Learned

By: Brett Copeland, League of Young Leaders (LoYL) Co-Chair

Guest Blogger

Last week I went to my first volunteer training with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. Frankly, it left me appalled and inspired—appalled at how much anti-choice activity is going on in the state at any one time and inspired that I now know how to do something about it.

Joey Richards, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Program and Communications Manager, connected the dots for us, from the legislative achievements for the year to anti-choice officials’ radical social agenda and, lastly, Senate Bill 924.

The largest lesson I learned from the orientation was that the battle for choice is being waged at the state-level, everyday, all the time. Out-of-touch members of the Virginia General Assembly have proven they are not afraid to champion their anti-choice crusade from the seat of elected power—to the detriment of men and women all over Virginia.

SB 924 is so disturbing because it will force in-office providers to be defined as a category of hospital—but only for abortion providers. Anti-choice lawmakers could not be clearer—they are going to strip away fundamental reproductive human rights, and they are going to do it through shady political maneuvering right under the noses of citizens.

The silent assault they perpetrated puts choice at a higher risk in Virginia than it has been for a long time—17 of the 21 clinics that provide valuable healthcare services to Virginians may close due to SB 924. It would be a devastating moment for healthcare in Virginia. The worst part is that there is only a small window for our public comment.

So what exactly can we do about it? For starters, we can contact Governor McDonnell and ask him to veto the new abortion restrictions. We can write letters to local papers to let our officials know these unprecedented and reckless attacks on women’s healthcare will not stand. We can also be prepared to attend the September 15 Board of Health meeting. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to learning more about what’s next by attending more NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia trainings. Will you join me?

*To sign up to volunteer or attend an upcoming orientation and training, contact Joey*