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!
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!