Anti-choice politicians waste no time restricting choice

By Staff

The Virginia General Assembly began this past Wednesday. Only three days in, anti-choice lawmakers wasted no time ignoring the economy, education and transportation and instead working to intrude in the personal, medical decisions of Virginia women and families.

In case you missed it, here is an overview of this week in Richmond.

Allies fight back against birth control ban

Back in November, Delegate Bob Marshall continued his unending quest to interfere in the medical decisions of Virginians when he pre-filed the first bill for the 2012 session. HB 1 brings the “personhood” debate to Virginia and is so extreme it could ban the most effective forms of birth control as well as outlaw abortion in all cases, even when a woman is the victim of rape or incest.

This week, pro-choice allies in the Virginia General Assembly spoke out against the dangerous consequences of HB 1. Delegate Charniele Herring and Senator Donald McEachin called the bill exactly what it is in an article appearing in The Virginian-Pilot:

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, called it “reckless and divisive” and “an abhorrent attack on women’s rights.”

State Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, said the Marshall bill is part of a broad assault on abortion rights by Republicans at the state and federal levels, noting that some GOP presidential contenders have expressed sympathy for such measures.

We want to send a shout out to our allies, especially Delegate Herring and Senator McEachin for speaking out against HB 1. We know most Virginians reject Delegate Marshall’s dangerous proposal and we will continue getting the word out across the state about this extreme bill. Learn how you can get involved at our “personhood” page.

More obstacles for Virginia women

While NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our allies fight for expanded and affordable access to healthcare for Virginia women, anti-choice politicians create more obstacles to timely healthcare.

Three days into the 2012 session and we already have four anti-choice bills that interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.

In the House of Delegates, Delegate Mark Cole and Delegate Kathy Byron have filed bills mandating women have ultrasounds prior to obtaining abortion care. Both bills require waiting periods between the ultrasound and the abortion procedure (with Delegate Cole’s bill requiring a waiting period of 48 hours). This will be Delegate Byron’s fifth attempt at passing such legislation.

Anti-choice Senators Ralph Smith and Jill Vogel filed similar bills on the Senate side.

Virginia women should have the option of an ultrasound if they request it or if their doctor recommends it. Politicians should not be allowed to put their agenda in the examining room with the doctor and the patient and add yet another financial and logistical obstacle for women seeking abortion care.

We have our work cut out for us this session, but we know pro-choice Virginia is strong. Be sure to keep up with the latest happenings in Richmond on our General Assembly page or on Facebook and Twitter.

General Assembly Update: February 9

As you may know, yesterday was Crossover Day at the General Assembly. This means we are halfway through 2011’s session. We have had a wild ride so far, and still have work to do before the session concludes. So let’s get right to it, with this week’s General Assembly update.

Let’s start with the good news.

Pro-Choice Allies Defeat Bad Bills

A slew of bills that would place new burdens on women seeking vital reproductive care were defeated in Senate Education and Health Committee last Thursday.

SB 1207 and SB 1378

These bills, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and Senator William Stanley (R-Richmond) respectively, sought to grant “personhood” rights to fetuses. While this can often be a confusing and tricky issue, granting fetuses full “personhood” rights could have a range of consequences including making abortion illegal, outlawing certain forms of contraception, and potentially opening the door for abusive partners to press charges for “wrongful death” of the fetus (which sounds eerily like a bill that came out of Utah last year.) Thankfully both of these bills were voted down 10-5. [Watch testimony from SB 1378 online.]

For more information be sure to check out NARAL Pro-Choice America for a good description of “personhood” and overview of  similar measures across the country.

SB 1435

This bill, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke), would have required all pregnant women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before obtaining the procedure. Such a requirement places undue burden on women seeking vital abortion care. Thankfully the bill was voted down 11-4, with Democrats gaining the support of Senator Fred Quayle (R-Suffolk) [Find the full vote here.]

Unfortunately, such burdensome and meddlesome restriction is nothing new. Today twenty-one states have enacted ultrasound legislation. Nine of these states (PDF) require either verbal counseling or written materials to provide pregnant women seeking an abortion to access of ultrasound services. Three states actually require that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on an abortion seeking woman and give her the opportunity to view the image.

SB 1202

Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg)’s bill would prohibit private insurance companies from offering vital abortion care coverage. During testimony in committee, Senator Obenshain stated that women can make their own choices, they just can’t have their choices covered by insurance! [Watch the video online]. Fortunately, the Committee agreed the bill would endanger the life and health of Virginia women and voted the bill down 10-5. [Find the full vote here.]

Following last year’s health care debate, the US government voted to allow private insurance companies to cover abortions as long as they collected a separate premium from policy holders. In addition, states were allowed to opt out of abortion coverage. Currently states that have opted out include: Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana. Both Pennsylvania and Arkansas currently have bills in their congress to pass similar measures.

We applaud Senate Education and Health Committee for standing up for Virginia women and defeating these measures. However, the news was not so good in the House of Delegates.

Opposing Access: Putting Women in Danger

HB 2147

Anti-choice lawmakers in Virginia seek to continue the unfortunate nationwide trend of interfering in the private lives of women (not to mention meddling in the free market) by limiting or eliminate access to vital abortion care. Delegate Benjamin Cline (R-Amherst)’s HB 2147, would prohibit private insurance companies from offering abortion coverage for women. After heated discussion in House Commerce and Labor subcommittee #1 last Wednesday, the bill moved on to the full House Commerce and Labor Committee, which voted to report the bill 14-7. [Find the Committee votes here.]

Unfortunately, this past Tuesday, the full House passed the bill 60-36 with two abstaining. [Find the full vote here.]

Bans on private insurance coverage of abortion have been quite the hot topic since the federal health care reform debate. However, as the Guttmacher Institute notes (PDF), state bans on private coverage are not new. But, they are in Virginia where a majority of healthcare insurers offer abortion coverage in their private plans. This bill would take away coverage that women already have! Furthermore, it would be the first time the Commonwealth mandated that a procedure NOT be covered by insurance companies.

Fetal “Personhood”: Trouble for Women and Providers

HB 1440

Last Thursday evening, we found out HB 1440, patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) was to be heard in House Committee for Courts of Justice. This was quite the surprise, as the bill appeared on the docket at nearly the last possible minute.

Even more infuriating than this furtive attack on Virginia women, Committee Chair, Delegate David Albo (R-Springfield) refused to hear any opposition testimony on the bill! With the deck stacked in favor of this dangerous legislation, the Committee voted to report the bill 14-7 with Delegate Cleaveland not voting. [Find the full vote here.]

On the House floor, the obstructions continued. Although several delegates stood to speak in opposition to the bill, calling attention to the harmful unintended consequences, testimony was cut short as the pending question was called. Eventually, the full House voted to pass the bill 62-36 with one abstaining. [Find the full vote here.]

As we noted above, “personhood” bills have the potential to ban safe, legal abortion as well as access to FDA-approved contraception. Additionally, such a bill could cause women to be prosecuted for miscarriage!

It is absolutely indefensible that reckless, out-of-touch anti-choice legislators would pass such legislation so quickly and secretively.

Please express your disappointment with all delegates who voted in favor of the bill. Additionally, be sure to express your disappointment with Delegate Albo for refusing to hear opposition testimony in committee!

Finally, HB 1428, aka TRAP, a bill that would single out  first-trimester abortion providers from other doctors’ offices in Virginia and impose new, unwarranted regulations on them is in the Senate Education and Health Committee. This bill along with HB 1440 and HB 2147 will be heard in that committee next Thursday.

Whew, we know that is a lot. Thanks for bearing with us during this fast-paced General Assembly session. Be sure to keep checking our website, Facebook page or Twitter feed for more updates! As always, feel free to email us with any questions or concerns!

[Thanks to our intern Hallie for her work on this post.]