BREAKING: Help repeal VA mandatory ultrasound law NOW!

Last night, pro-choice Virginians won a huge victory when Lynwood Lewis was officially declared the next state Senator from District 6. With this narrow win, Democrats are poised to possibly take control over the Virginia senate with a 20-20 split and pro-choice champion Ralph Northam as the tie-breaking vote!

Unfortunately, extreme anti-choice politicians will stop at nothing to continue their attacks on Virginians’ health and rights.  While Democrats appear ready to take power over the Senate, a small GOP-controlled subcommittee will attempt one last attack on women’s health — defeating a pro-choice bill to repeal the mandatory ultrasound law!

This is nothing but a sneaky attempt to kill critical pro-choice legislation behind closed doors – and possibly right before power shifts. We need your help RIGHT NOW to fight back: Contact Sen. Newman (Chairman of the Health Care Subcommittee) and tell him to take S.B 617 off of today’s agenda!

Talking points: 

  •  S.B 617  is a common-sense bill to repeal Virginia’s invasive and insulting mandatory ultrasound ban and improve access to healthcare for thousands of women and families.  If passed, SB 617  would return private medical decisions back to patients and doctors – and get politicians out of Virginians’ personal healthcare choices.
  • With the recount results yesterday, it appears that Democrats are poised to take Senate power.  This bill should be given a full hearing by our rightfully elected officials – not sneakily buried behind closed doors.
  • I will be watching closely to see if you act in favor of women’s health and fair government — or if you continue to play games with our basic health and rights. 

In case Sen. Newman refuses to take the bill off the the agenda today, it is critical that we contact other subcommittee members and urge them to support SB 617. Tell these subcommittee members to support SB 617 and repeal Virginia’s ultrasound law now:

Talking points: 

  • We may not all feel the same way about abortion, but we can agree that these are personal, private decisions between a woman, her family, her faith, and her doctor. Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a woman. You can’t make that decision for someone else.
  • Requiring an ultrasound before abortion is about political interference, not informed consent. Information should not be provided with the intent or result of shaming, judging, or making a woman change her mind.
  • Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. Politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy.

Thank you so much for taking action! 

Tell Your Senator to Pass Pro-Choice Legislation NOW!

If we are going to have a shot at turning back last year’s overwhelming tide of anti-choice legislation, we need your help right nowOver the past two years, Virginia’s  lawmakers have passed some of the most stringent restrictions on  reproductive rights in the county.  We all remember 2012′s outright War on Virginia Women: attempts to grant “personhood” status to fertilized eggs, attempts to force trans-vaginal ultrasounds on women seeking safe legal abortion care, and even a bill to ban abortion outright at 20 weeks – with no real exemption for the health or life of the mother.

Now, we’re fighting back. Our pro-choice allies in the General Assembly have introduced legislation to protect women’s rights, ensure access to reproductive health care, and repeal the worst of last year’s attacks:

  • Sen. Ralph Northam and Sen. Barbara Favola have introduced legislation  (SB 1080 and SB 1082) in the Senate to repeal Virginia’s invasive forced ultrasound law, which currently forces Virginia women to undergo a mandatory ultrasound 24 hours before accessing her constitutionally-protected right to an abortion.
  • Sen. Mark Herring has introduced SB 1115 and SB 1116, which would repeal and negate onerous and burdensome targeted regulations (TRAP)  on women’s health centers in Virginia. If not repealed, TRAP regulations will likely force the majority of Virginia’s women’s health clinics to shut their doors.
  • Sen. Donald McEachin has introduced the Birth Control Protection Act (SB 783), to formally distinguish between FDA-approved methods of contraception and abortion. Without a formal definition, anti-choice lawmakers can continue to blur the line between birth control and abortion, and may attempt to restrict birth control as stringently as abortion.

If passed, these bills will help restore reproductive rights, protect women’s health, and  make a positive difference for thousands of Virginian women. But first, each bill must be passed by the Senate Education and Health Committee if they are to continue to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Every one of our pro-choice bills in the Senate (including every one mentioned above) will be heard in the Senate Ed & Health committee this Thursday, January 17. If these important bills have even the slightest shot at becoming law, they must be approved by Committee on Thursday.

TAKE ACTION NOW: If your Senator serves on this committee,  tell him or her to support these critical pro-choice bills! Here is the list of Senators on the Education and Health Committee who will be considering these bills:

If you are unsure who your Senator is, please go here to find out. 

If your Senator is serving on the Ed & Health Committee (and will be voting on these bills Thursday), now is the time to CONTACT. Email or call your Senator and urge them to vote in support of these bills and send this important legislation to the Senate floor! 

Sample letter to your Senator:

Dear Senator [NAME],

As your constituent, I’m contacting you today to urge you to vote in support of SB 1082, SB 1080, SB . 1115, SB 1116 and SB 783. If passed these bills will protect reproductive rights, repeal Virginia’s most burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on women’s health, and increase access to essential medical care for thousands of Virginian women.

Currently, Virginia’s forced ultrasound law inappropriately inserts the government into the homes and doctor’s offices of women and their families.  This law marks the first time the Virginia General Assembly has mandated a diagnostic test that supersedes a doctor’s advice and a patient’s consent, and represents a significant road block for women seeking to access their constitutionally protect right to an abortion. SB 1080 and SB 1082 would repeal and negate this law and ensure that Virginian women are given the support and respect they deserve.  Please vote in favor of these bills.

Senate Bill 1115 and Senate Bill 1116 would eliminate the law passed in 2011 that requires women’s health clinics to comply with the construction standards of new hospitals.  Targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP) are burdensome, medically unnecessary, and nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to shut down Virginia’s women’s health clinics.  First trimester abortions are among the safest of all medical procedures, and  Virginia’s women’s health centers  have exemplary health records and have been inspected and listened by the Virginia Department of Health. If passed, SB 1115 and SB 1116 would ensure that the majority of women’s health centers remain open and continue to provide essential medical care. Please support these bills.

Finally, please vote in favor of SB 783, the Birth Control Protection Act. Currently, the Code of Virginia does not distinguish between FDA-approved methods of contraception and abortion. In absence of a clear definition, there have been attempts to blur the lines between contraception and abortion, as well as limit access to family planning services under the code section relating to abortion. Contraception is basic health care for women, and is used by virtually every sexually active woman of reproductive age.  It is essential that birth control remains safe, accessible, and affordable for the women of Virginia.

Again, I urge you to stand with the women of Virginia and your district in supporting these critically important bills.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

[Your home address]

Thank you for taking action! Please help us spread the word to your Virginia friends, neighbors, and family members. To stay updated, “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for up-to-the minute news from the halls of the General Assembly. And don’t forget to join us and hundreds of other pro-choice Virginians to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade at the “Rally for Choice” at the Capitol in Richmond on Tuesday, January 22 at 10 a.m!

Forced Ultrasounds In Effect In Virginia

Guest Post by Legal Intern Chris Lewis:

The controversial, unnecessary, and intrusive mandatory ultrasound law is now in effect in the Commonwealth.    Starting this week, any Virginian seeking to exercise her constitutional right to get an abortion must first get an ultrasound, regardless of the medical advice of her doctor.  The law, which was passed over the objections of thousands of Virginians, was signed by anti-choice Governor Bob McDonnell, and enthusiastically endorsed by his sidekick and likely 2013 GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

The law requires that:

  • A woman must undergo a compulsory ultrasound before having an abortion, whether or not her doctor says its necessary or she asks for it.
  • Her doctor must offer her the opportunity to view the image and listen for fetal heart tones – but telling the doctor “no thanks” isn’t a good enough a response. She must sign a refusal form that will then be saved in her medical record for seven years.
  • The ultrasound must be performed at least 24 hours prior to the abortion unless the woman lives 100 miles or more away from her provider. If she lives 99 miles or less away, that means at least two and more likely three appointments on separate days, requiring additional expenses such as taking time off work and paying for additional gas and child care.
  • Can’t afford an ultrasound or your insurance won’t cover it? Anti-choice policymakers will provide you with a list of crisis pregnancy centers – aka fake anti-choice clinics – that will provide you with a free one… while they use misinformation try to pressure you to not have an abortion.

These “crisis pregnancy centers” are especially troublesome.  The Virginia Department of Health provides a list of “no-cost ultrasound services”, but each of the organizations listed is an anti-choice clinic with the primary purpose of discouraging abortion—not providing care for women.  To make matters worse, these clinics needed to only answer six questions to be listed in the government directory, and only two of those questions have anything to do with ensuring that the person performing the ultrasound is in any way competent enough to do so in a safe matter.  In addition, no part of the law requires that the anti-choice clinics give the woman a copy of the ultrasound should she decide to get an abortion from a legitimate clinic.  She may have to start the entire process again!

Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Cuccinelli have exhibited a shocking amount of hypocrisy on this issue.  They claim the onerous TRAP regulations are intended only to ensure the safety of women and the quality of medical care, but have said nothing about making sure the crisis pregnancy centers meet these standards.

After last week’s Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (a law that will bring health care access to thousands of low-income Virginians), McDonnell called the decision a “blow to freedom”.  Yet he and the other anti-choice politicians in the Commonwealth take no issue with putting unnecessary government mandates in between a woman and her doctor.

The ultrasound mandate will impact every woman in Virginia, but the burden will fall especially hard on the at-risk and marginalized communities in the state, including young women, low-income women who are uninsured or under-insured, rural women whose closest provider is far away, and working women with children.  There is no doubt that these women will have to bear significant new costs in order to get an abortion, a right that has been repeatedly asserted by the United State Supreme Court.

Anti-choice politicians need to know that their opinion is not shared by a majority of Virginians.  Please sign our petition and demand that the General Assembly repeal this intrusive law.  And be sure to sign up with our Choice Action Network (CAN) to stay informed about further assaults on reproductive freedom in Virginia.

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!

General Assembly Update: January 19

Welcome to this week’s 2011 General Assembly update!

The Assembly is moving quickly during this 60-day session, so we’d like to get you caught up on legislation dealing with reproductive rights.

As we faced some tough losses this past election cycle, we’re unfortunately facing a slew of bad bills this year:

HB 1 – “Personhood”

This is the bill catching everyone’s attention this year. After Mississippi voters made it clear they didn’t want anything to do with this radical legislation, Virginia’s anti-choice legislators, led by quixotic Delegate Bob Marshall, have decided to try to get passed the General Assembly and onto Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk. This could make all forms of abortion, including in the case of rape or incest, completely illegal and ban the most effective forms of birth control.

HBs 261/462 & SBs 279/484 – Mandating Ultrasounds

Delegates Cole and Byron and Senators Vogel and Smith have brought back this familiar bill. They are all fighting to get the credit from the Family Foundation to see who can place the most undue burdens upon a pregnant woman seeking an abortion. This would force women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, and in Delegate Cole’s legislation, at least 48 hours before. This bill invades the doctor-patient relationship and forces a patient to undergo and pay for, in some cases, a procedure that may not be medically relevant or necessary. Furthermore, this violates the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics.

HB 62 – Abortion Funding

Delegate Mark Cole is back with more job creating legislation for his constituents in Stafford County. Just kidding, he doesn’t have time for that. He’s decided that it’s in the Commonwealth’s best interest to take away funding for women who need to have an abortion because a certified physician has found that the fetus will be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency.

HB 464 & SB 496 – Health Exchange

Del. Bryon and Sen. Watkins have introduced this language that creates the state’s health care exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act but prohibits the sale of insurance coverage for abortions, except when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or in cases of rape or incest. Another case of those who want government to be smaller and less intrusive to be anything but.

HB 1174 – Health Insurance

Bob Marshall (yes, these names have a tendency to repeat), he of small government and less taxes, has proposed a bill telling insurance companies to hand out separate but equal insurance policies: one with abortion and one without.

These bills have all been assigned committees or sub-committees but haven’t been voted on yet. Be sure to keep checking our bill tracker to get the latest updates on all the bills we are following. And be sure to email us to if you have questions about contacting your legislator!

If you are not sure who your legislator is, you can easily find your legislator here.Or email us for more info!

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.

Anti-choice crusaders seek to bulldoze through new regulations

Now that the dust has settled from the surprise last minute attack on abortion rights during this year’s General Assembly session, we can look back and see what exactly happened and what we can expect next.

Anti-choice legislators who oppose access to comprehensive reproductive health care have been trying to pass legislation for nearly two decades in an effort to restrict and eliminate abortion rights in the Commonwealth. Since anti-choice Republicans won big in the last federal congressional election, taking control of the House of Representatives, there has been an all out war on reproductive rights. But the “War on Women” is not just happening on Capitol Hill.

Last August, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion, requested by Sen. Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke) and Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) declaring the state Board of Health could issue regulations for first-trimester abortion offices. To clarify, this would single out abortion providers from other physician offices (dentists, cosmetic surgeons, LASIK surgeons, etc.) for potentially stricter regulations.

Cuccinelli’s legal opinion did not require the Board of Health to regulate, but merely said they could do so. Since August, the Board of Health has done nothing to offer new regulations, and was not showing indications that they would. With no new regulations in sight, we turned our full attention and efforts to the ever-difficult General Assembly.

Five months after Cuccinelli’s opinion, state anti-abortion legislators proposed a total of nine bills in both the House of Delegates and state Senate, which would seek to limit or eliminate access to safe, legal abortion in Virginia. We saw bills requiring all women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, banning all private insurance carriers from offering vital abortion coverage, three separate bills granting personhood rights to zygotes and the usual TRAP –targeted regulations of abortion providers – bill. Fortunately, regardless of whether the anti-abortion bills started in the House or the Senate, the Senate Education and Health Committee defeated them one by one.

By the second to the last week of the General Assembly, pro-choice supporters felt cautiously optimistic at seeming to survive another year with no new restrictions on valuable abortion care. During this time, anti-abortion legislators were planning their last minute attack on abortion rights. As we reported recently, in the closing hours of the 2011 General Assembly session, reckless anti-choice legislators used an unrelated bill to sneak in and force through a last-minute amendment targeting abortion providers. The amendment requires the Board of Health to regulate first-trimester abortion providers as a type of “hospital.”

The bill in question, Senate bill 924, had already passed the Senate. Delegate Kathy Bryon (R-Campbell County) attached the new hospital amendment in the House.  Since the Senate bill 924 had already gone through committee before the amendment was proposed, it was no longer able to go to the Senate Education and Health Committee with the new amendment. Through gimmickry, they managed to move Virginia backward regarding access to vital health care. Now the bill is on its way to anti-choice crusader Governor McDonnell, who has expressed intentions to sign the bill. Once the governor signs the bill into law, the regulatory process will begin.

After Governor McDonnell signs the bill into law, it will then go to the State Board of Health to determine the regulations for the abortion clinics. There are fifteen members of the Board of Health, eleven of whom have been appointed by ex-Governor Kaine. However, “by the end of his four-year term, McDonnell will have appointed 11 members of the board, which appears to have the power to reconsider regulations at any time.” The Board of Health has 280 days to design the new regulation for abortion clinics. In the meantime, the Board of Health will probably hold two public hearings before making any decision. There are currently a number of other states that are trying to pass similar abortion regulation bills.

Last Friday, the state Board of Health held their quarterly meeting. One item on the agenda stood out among the rest: the legislative update.

Normally, the Board of Health would take up to two years to adopt new regulations. The typical period would include several opportunities for written and oral comments from the public. The lengthy process makes sense. New regulations should not be taken lightly and both the Board and the public should have ample opportunity to consider and comment on how new rules would affect access to services.

But those opposed to abortion access are not about to give the public ample time to weigh in.

The staunchly anti-choice, anti-woman McDonnell administration and its General Assembly allies seem to be weary of any public comment derailing their assiduous, out-of-touch efforts to limit and eliminate access to safe, legal abortion in the Commonwealth. Therefore, they are requiring the Board of Health to adopt “emergency regulations,” a tactic rarely used in Virginia.

The emergency regulation process severely curtails public comment and essentially grants the governor the power to draft regulations of his choosing. Here is what we know about the process so far:

  • The Board of Health will study regulations in other states and have draft regulations available on September 1, which they will only distribute to the public by request. (We will be requesting the regulations and will make them available.)
  • On September 15, the Board will hold its quarterly meeting. At this meeting, members of the public will have two minutes each to comment on proposed regulations. Following comment and deliberation, the Board will vote on new regulations during this same meeting.
  • Once the Board weighs public comment and votes on the new regulations, the proposed rules will be in the hands of the McDonnell administration to shape, tweak and edit with no further review or public comment necessary!

Essentially, anti-choice legislators have found a way to bulldoze through unwarranted and unnecessary regulations that could leave Virginia with fewer than five first-trimester abortion providers.

So we have a lot of work ahead. We refuse to let anti-choice zealots operate in complete secrecy in their unrelenting assault on women’s rights.

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.]

 

 

General Assembly Update: January 25

Happy Tuesday everyone! Welcome to this week’s 2011 General Assembly update!

The Assembly is moving quickly during this 45-day session, so let’s get you caught up to speed on where the reproductive choice bills are.

First, the bad.

HB 1428- Singling out abortion providers

As we noted on Friday, The House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee voted to approve HB 1428, sending it to the full House for a vote. HB 1428, is a bill sponsored by Delegate Richard Bell (R-20) that singles out first-trimester abortion providers in Virginia for new restrictions! If passed, the bill will force these providers to comply with hospital-level regulations; regulations that are not imposed on doctors performing similar office-based procedures such as oral surgery, plastic surgery, or colonoscopy.

This “TRAP” bill (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) could make it more difficult for abortion providers to provide vital medical care to Virginian women. We continue to support the highest standards of care for abortion in the Commonwealth. First-trimester abortion remain safe and legal in our state, and we will continue fighting on the ground to make sure the General Assembly does not single out valued members of the medical field for unwarranted and unnecessary restrictions. The bill passed the House Committee in a 15-6 vote, and is now awaiting second reading on the House floor. Please contact your delegate today and ask her or him to vote against this bill!

HB 2433- Mandating ultrasounds

In addition, to placing new restrictions on first-trimester abortion providers, the General Assembly is considering a bill to place more undue burdens on women seeking abortion care. Delegate Mark Cole (R-88) is the patron of HB 2433, which would require every pregnant woman to have an ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion.

This bill invades the doctor-patient relationship. In fact, forcing a patient to undergo a procedure that may not be medically relevant or necessary to the patient’s interests violates the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics.

While opposing some health mandates, Delegate Cole and other out-of-touch lawmakers seem fine with mandates interfering in a woman’s personal, medical decision.

HB 2433 is currently in subcommittee in House Committee for Courts of Justice. If you delegate is a member of the subcommittee or committee, please contact them and urge them to vote against this burdensome legislation!

Now for some good news!

Senator Ralph Northam (D-6) is the patron of SB 967, which would require school districts to teach medically-accurate and evidence-based programs under Family Life Education guidelines. This bill would provide Virginia youth with the knowledge they need to make healthy, lifelong decisions, and will take a step in the right direction to reducing the rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The bill just passed subcommittee, and is expected to go before the Senate Education and Health Committee this Thursday!

Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46) is the patron of HB 2436, which states insurance plans may neither require nor prohibit abortion coverage, leaving coverage up to a woman and her private insurance plan. This bill is currently in subcommittee in the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.

However, on the flip side of Delegate Herring’s positive bill, Delegate Benjamin Cline (R-24) and Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26) are offering up bills to prohibit any private insurance plan from covering abortion care. (HB 2147 and SB 1202, respectively.) HB 2147 is currently in subcommittee in the House Commerce and Labor Committee and SB 1202 is in Senate Education and Health Committee.

And finally, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13) and newly-elected Senator William Stanley (R-19) are both offering up bills to grant “personhood” rights to fetuses. (HB 1440 and SB 1378, respectively.) These bills could go so far as to outlaw certain forms of birth control and all cases of abortion! The bills are currently in committee.

Be sure to keep checking our bill tracker to get the latest updates on all the bills we are following. And be sure to email us to if you have questions about contacting your legislator!

If you are not sure who your legislator is, you can easily find your legislator here. Or email us for more info!

As a final reminder, remember to join us this Thursday, January 27 for Pro-Choice Lobby Day in Richmond! Registration is still open, so be sure to register online today!

Additionally, be sure to sign up for our Legislative Rapid Response Team to help us react rapidly to events as they happen at the capitol!

[Thanks to our interns Sara and Hallie for their work on this post.]