A sweet farewell!

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Well, folks, it’s time to say goodbye! As the time winds down and the workday concludes, I will be saying goodbye to my friends and colleagues at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and moving forward in the world with new experiences and a stronger voice in the fight for reproductive rights.

These last eight months as NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Advocacy and Communications Intern have been nothing but wonderful! I have gained so much from this experience and am truly grateful for all of the lessons I have learned along the way.

From day one I have been amazed by the work of our volunteer base and have loved corresponding with activists and witnessing their sheer dedication to reproductive rights. They [NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia volunteers and activists] are proof that everyday citizens, like you and I, can make a difference in issues that affect us all. To me, that is remarkable!

There are many other takeaways that I will carry with me beyond our Old Towne, Alexandria office. I am thankful for the opportunities this internship has provided me and loved learning more about the inter-workings of a nonprofit, Virginia’s political climate, and the fight to protect choice.

What’s next on my agenda? I’m looking forward to spending the summer with my friends and family before heading to Mozambique to teach English with the Peace Corps. During my 27 months of Peace Corps service I plan to continue my involvement in women’s issues–hopefully working with local organizations to advance women’s health and betterment. Feel free to keep in contact and follow my adventures!

Cheers! :)

2015 Legislative Debriefing

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

On Wednesday, April 29th, pro-choice advocates, activists and allied lawmakers joined together in Arlington for our annual Legislative Review and Reception.

Hosted at the Arlington Central Library, the event allowed for lawmakers and constituents to mingle before a panel of five pro-choice legislators discussed the 2015 session and fielded questions from a packed room.

DSC_0332Senators Barbara Favola (D-31), Jennifer Wexton (D-33) and Janet Howell (D-32) joined Delegates Patrick Hope (D-47) and Charniele Herring (D-46) on our panel to discuss the pro-choice bills they fought for in 2015.

Senator Jennifer Wexton kicked off the panel discussion, detailing her failed attempt to repeal the 24-hour waiting period for women who seek abortion as well as her successful breastfeeding bill–which was signed into law in March.

Delegate Patrick Hope continued the conversation, detailing his attempt to pass the “Bad Bosses Bill.” Calling the bill “commonsense,” Hope explained his frustration with the failure of the bill and reiterated to the crowd that, “bosses have no place in your reproductive decisions.”

Delegate Hope went on to discuss his successful efforts to bring justice to the dozens of victims who were forcibly sterilized from the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s under the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924. Hope’s efforts lead to the creation of a $400,000 compensation package for victims.

After Delegate Hope concluded, our steadfast pro-choice champion Delegate Charniele Herring discussed the extreme 20-week abortion ban that was introduced in the House and what activists can do to prevent future legislation from passing. Calling the bill, “An example of poorly drafted legislation,” Delegate Herring predicted that such legislation should be expected in the future and, “We need to be prepared.”

Senator Janet Howell used her time to discuss attacks on the state budget and how she successfully defeated multiple anti-choice amendments. Before wrapping up, Senator Howell reminded us all about the importance elections have on the creation of budget conferees and the state budget in general.

DSC_0333Finally, Senator Barbara Favola concluded our panel discussion by reviewing this year’s failed anti-choice budget attacks and the need to overturn Virginia’s current ban on abortion insurance coverage for those in the healthcare exchange. Senator Favola went on to discuss the importance of contraceptive equity stating that, “Women should be able to choose and afford the birth control they need.”

After each panelist spoke, our guest lawmakers then fielded questions from the audience and offered advice on how to gear up for the fight ahead.

Thank you to all of the legislators, activists and allies who joined us for our 2015 Legislative Review and Reception. We cannot wait to work with you all in the future!

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Manassas City Council approves discriminatory zoning ordinance

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

On Monday, April 27th–in front of a packed room of pro-choice activists and advocates–the Manassas City Council voted to approve a new zoning ordinance that would restrict abortion clinics in Manassas.

Prior to the vote, pro-choice advocates delivered over 250 petitions to the Mayor and City Council, urging them to vote against the proposed zoning ordinances and stand up for Manassas women and families.

Unfortunately, their voices were not heard.

After a year of debate, failed recommendations and public comment, the council voted 3-4 in favor of changing the city’s zoning code–with current Mayor and Senate candidate Hal Parrish delivering the tie-breaking vote.

Lone Democrat, Ken Elston, and Republicans Mark Wolfe and Sheryl Bass (the council’s only woman) opposed the zoning measure.

Among other things, the new zoning code would require all medical care facilities, including abortion providers, to obtain a special use permit prior to opening their doors. This permit, however, would only be granted after a period of public comment and City Council approval–a requirement that could disproportionally affect abortion providers when up against an overwhelmingly Republican council.

Not only would these new zoning changes affect abortion clinics from moving into the area, but also they could threaten the survival of Manassas’s sole abortion clinic, Amethyst Health Center for Women.

If Amethyst were to relocate or make significant renovations to its existing location (a very probable situation given the current state of TRAP laws in Virginia), the 25-year-old business would need to apply for and persuade the City Council for a special use permit.

After Mayor Parrish delivered his final, anti-choice vote, dozens of activists politely rose, turned their backs to the council and left the meeting in unison to express their disappointment in the council’s vote. The walkout left the room nearly empty and showed the Mayor and City Council that we won’t stand with their discriminatory decision.

A final check-in with the University of Richmond

By Kristen Gell, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the University of Richmond. Connect with Kristen and the Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) crew on Facebook!

The month of April has been a busy end of the semester for SURJ!  We have been in the final stages of fundraising for the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project (RRFP) as a part of their annual Bowl-a-thon event.

RRFP is an all-volunteer, grassroots abortion fund whose mission is to further reproductive justice by providing practical and financial support for abortion services in Virginia and surrounding communities. They strive to be a resource in the community by engaging in grassroots advocacy for the full spectrum of reproductive rights.

We first learned about RRFP through the clinic defense our members periodically participate in. As an organization, SURJ is constantly looking for ways in which we can make a difference and get involved in the community.

Raising money for RRFP seemed like the perfect way to end the year!  In order to raise money, we decided to make vagina and penis chocolate pops to sell at UR.  We set up a booth in the commons with the pops, attractive flyers, and the usual NARAL swag. The pops were attention grabbing, to say the least. We thought it was important to include both penises and vaginas, since full reproductive justice benefits everyone, not just women!

In addition to funds raised from the pops, we also received private donations which will go towards our SURJ Bowl-a-thon fundraising efforts as well.  While we have yet to attend the event, our members are certainly looking forward to a great night filled with great people!

Besides fundraising for Bowl-a-thon, we also published our Kristen Zine 3 of the year.  This issue highlighted abortion clinics in the Richmond area as well as RRFP and Bowl-a-thon.  It was distributed the week before finals in the packed libraries and available to passersby as we sold pops!

All in all, my experience being a campus representative for NARAL Pro-Choice VA has been extremely rewarding.  As an organization, SURJ has been able to step beyond the campus scene and engage in the Richmond community through visits to the capitol, board of health meetings, clinic defense, and now Bowl-a-thon.  I’ve had the opportunity to make so many friends on campus and meet great activists in the Richmond area who I look forward to working with for years to come.

NARAL has provided both myself and SURJ with the tools to expand our organization and further our outreach, which I know all of our members are thankful for. Their aid has been invaluable and the UR campus community has benefited greatly this past year!

A final post: Reflecting on life as a NARAL representative at JMU

By Sarah Hogg, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

I have been NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Campus Representative Intern at James Madison University since January 2013. In one week, I’m graduating from James Madison with four years of academics and activism under my belt. My time with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has shaped my undergraduate career in an incredibly unique and profound way unlike any other organization, campus group, or campaign I’ve been involved with. I’m finding it difficult to even choose what I want to write about in this final blog post—there’s so much I want to say.

I am deeply proud of the reproductive justice work my volunteer team and I have done at James Madison over the past two and a half years. The past two semesters have been my favorites—during this school year, we campaigned for Democratic Senate candidates and encouraged students to vote in favor of women’s health rights, we testified at the Virginia State Assembly in an attempt to push pro-choice bills past subcommittee, we rallied in Richmond to support the Health Commissioner in her decision to reform TRAP laws, we created a comprehensive birth control resource guide as a resource for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia that focuses on intersectionality and amplifying diverse voices in this movement, we honored National Day of Abortion Providers by making our annual letter writing campaign to Virginia abortion providers bigger and better, and we engaged in numerous solidarity-building events to grow our community and foster relationships, such as movie nights, pro-choice coffee hours, and social media conversations.

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t elaborate on the amazing work my NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia volunteers do here on James Madison University’s campus. Even though I’m the Campus Representative Intern, I would be one hundred percent lost without the support of countless pro-choice feminist activists at JMU. I could not, and cannot, do this work alone, and the support of my team over the past two and a half years has been truly remarkable and deserving of a huge amount of praise. For my friends and activists who have been by my side since January 2013, and for my friends and activists who just joined the movement this semester, you all are wonderful and I thank you immensely from the bottom of my heart.

I am a completely different person because of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. When I first signed on as an intern two and a half years ago, I had just finished work on President Obama’s reelection campaign and was itching to do more for my community. I was just starting to get my feet wet in the reproductive justice movement by volunteering for my local Planned Parenthood, and I knew I wanted to go further—I just had no idea how far I would go. I truly found a home with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia where I could develop my leadership skills and feminist identity with a group of amazing people who accepted me and always pushed me to be the best advocate possible.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has empowered me to use my strength to advocate for others and helped me find my voice and place in the reproductive justice movement. Through my work with NARAL Pro-Choice VA, I found my greatest passion, and I now know that I want to dedicate my life to reproductive justice work. As I graduate from James Madison University and begin my career, I will always keep NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia close to my heart as my home base and the place that allowed me to blossom as an activist. This isn’t so much of a goodbye, but a see you later—thank you for everything.

 

BREAKING: Anti-choice zoning moves forward in Manassas

URGENT NEWS: The city of Manassas is closer than ever to passing a law that virtually bans abortion providers within the city!

Last night, the Manassas City Council and Mayor Hal Parrish voted to move forward with a zoning ordinance that unfairly singles out women’s health centers for expensive zoning hurdles, and would make it all but impossible for them to relocate or open in the city.

We’ve seen this before. Almost two years ago, the Fairfax City Council passed an eerily similar proposal…and only a few months later, Virginia’s busiest women’s

health center closed its doors. We refuse to allow another women’s health center to become the victim of targeted zoning attacks.

 Join us next Monday at the Manassas City Council meeting to speak out against this dangerous proposal!

A protest sign against the ordinance sits outside of the Manassas city hall

A protest sign against the ordinance sits outside of the Manassas city hall

Last night’s vote was nail-bitingly close, with three City Council members voting in support of the anti-choice measure and three councilmembers voting against. Faced with a split city council, Mayor Hal Parrish – who is currently running for Virginia State Senate – cast the tie-breaking vote in support of this dangerous attack on women’s health centers.

It was a devastating move…but we still have a chance to stop this from becoming law. Next Monday the Mayor and City Council are meeting again to take a final vote on the city’s zoning update, which includes this dangerous proposal. 

Please join us on Monday at the Manassas City Council meeting to stand up for women’s health centers – in the city and beyond.

Thank you for all you do!

PS: If you haven’t already, sign our petition telling Mayor Parrish and the Manassas City Council NOT to discriminate against women’s health centers!

Campus Choice Movie Night

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

With the snacks ready, DVD loaded and Twitter opened, pro-choice college students across the Commonwealth were united by film and social media as they all pressed play on the documentary 12th and Delaware and discussed the deceitful tactics of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).Campus Movie Night Graphic 2

Students at the University of Richmond, Old Dominion University, the College of William and Mary, and James Madison University all participated in NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s 1st ever Campus Choice Movie Night.

In an effort to unite our campus programs, students and campus organizations at all four schools sat down to watch the film and tweet their reactions using the hashtag #ExposeVaCPCs.

Even though some had seen the movie before, the film’s depiction of CPCs and the lies they tell patients struck a nerve with all those who watched.

Providing moviegoers with a fly-on-the-wall view of the abortion rights battle, 12th and Delaware tells the story of a unique Florida street corner where women dealing with unwanted pregnancies can find a crisis pregnancy center positioned directly across from an abortion clinic.

Kristen QuoteWhile the film did a great job depicting both sides of the abortion debate, our campus viewers were disturbed by many of the deceitful tactics used by the CPC in the film.

Many instances of CPC deceit throughout the film sparked tweets and conversation from our college viewers. For instance, our Twitter feed exploded by angry college followers as the director of the CPC told a patient that, “Condoms are only 85% effective.” CPC literature regarding the (false) link between abortion and breast cancer also produced a disturbed reaction from our tweeters.

When the film concluded, many of our followers expressed their appreciation for the movie and eye-opening information it provided regarding CPCs in America. The group was shocked to learn that crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics 4,000 to 816 in the United States.

Without a doubt, Campus Choice Movie Night was a success and we cannot thank our campus allies enough for helping us to #ExposeVACPCs!

Tell Manassas: Don’t Discriminate Against Women’s Health Centers!

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Last March, women in Northern Virginia breathed a sign of relief when the Manassas City Council voted 4-2 to defeat a copycat TRAP proposal introduced by anti-choice councilman Marc Aveni.

If you’ll recall, Aveni has been on a mission to regulate and restrict the city’s lone abortion clinic since coming to office in 2006. In October 2014, the councilman and his troop of anti-choice crusaders introduced a motion that would require abortion clinics to obtain a special use permit and city council approval before opening facilities in Manassas. The measure would have made it disproportionally difficult for abortion providers to operate within city limits.

As mentioned, Aveni’s efforts were–thankfully– defeated, but not without future challenge. Instead, the Manassas City Council decided to review and move forward with a comprehensive update the city’s current zoning laws, which brings us to today.

After a year of review, the Manassas City Council will vote on amendments to its zoning regulations– amendments that would blatantly discriminate against abortion clinics and affect the future of such facilities within Manassas city limits.

Putting aside the boring world of city zoning and land ordinances, here’s what you need to know:

The proposed zoning update directly attacks women’s healthcare centers. Period.

The Manassas zoning update treats women’s health centers differently from doctors’ and dentists’ offices (where the same level of outpatient procedures are performed) just because they provide abortion services. This is purposeful discrimination by politicians, and it places extra burdens on abortion providers.

Abortion is constitutionally protected, extremely safe, and routine procedure – and all facilities (including women’s health centers, dentist’s offices and doctor’s offices) performing similar, non-invasive outpatient procedures should be treated alike. Singling out women’s health centers because they might provide abortion services is simply discriminatory and not grounded in medical reality.

Not only would the proposed zoning update discriminate against local women’s health centers, but it would also require some abortion providers to obtain a burdensome Special Use Permit in several areas of the city.

A special use permit politicizes zoning decisions and requires a process full of hurdles, including application fees, legal fees related to filing, a public hearing and staff review, and approval by politicians on the City Council. If subject to Special Use Permits, women’s health centers would need to apply, pay a fee and persuade the highly political, 6-member, mostly male, City Council that providing local women with family planning services, cancer screenings, and preventative care is important to the Manassas community – all before they could open within city limits.

This is the bottom line: The proposed zoning update should not make it disproportionately difficult for women’s health centers to operate or locate within Manassas City. Updated zoning laws should treat all healthcare providers equally, without discrimination and politically motivated interference.

The Manassas City Council and Mayor Harry Parrish II are allowing for public comments on the issue at their next meeting on Monday, March 16th. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia will be there in full force– speaking out against the discriminatory zoning updates and demanding equality for women’s healthcare centers–and we would love for you to join us. RSVP here!

Honoring Abortion Providers during Women’s History Month

The following op-ed was written for “The Breeze” by Sarah Hogg, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

March is Women’s History Month, a time where we can celebrate and honor women in history who have contributed to society in meaningful and revolutionary ways. This is also a time where we can pay homage to women who paved the way for the women’s equality movement and recognize those women who are currently doing wonderful work to further feminist goals in our contemporary world. People of all genders can draw strength from the awe-inspiring women who came before us and use this month as a time of reflection about how far the women’s equality movement has come and where we’re going next. While Women’s History Month is widely known and appreciated, there is a certain day in March that is often forgotten, but is also extremely important—the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.

The National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers has been observed annually on March 10th since 1996. March 10th is the anniversary of Dr. David Gunn’s death in 1993, the first abortion provider to be murdered by anti-choice extremists. Since 1993, the violence has only gotten worse—on May 31st, 2009, abortion provider Dr. David Tiller was murdered, perhaps the most well-known case of anti-choice violence in history. Furthermore, clinics around the nation are relentlessly threatened and antagonized by anti-choice protestors—a form of violence in itself. It is not uncommon for staff at women’s health centers that provide abortions to go through intense training on what to do if a bomb threat is called in or if a gunman enters the clinic. When I interned at my local Planned Parenthood, we were trained to check under our cars for explosives when we left work for the day. Doctors, nurses, and all other clinic staff, escorts, and volunteers are under constant threat—anyone who plays a crucial role in abortion access can potentially be effected by anti-choice violence.

The National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers honors the bravery of abortion providers and recognizes the necessary and courageous work they do every single day. Showing appreciation for abortion providers ties in perfectly with Women’s History Month—while doctors, nurses, and all other clinic staff can be of any gender, protecting abortion access and providing abortions themselves inherently helps advance women’s equality. Pro-choice activists and advocates work tirelessly everyday so that women can seek abortion access (and all other types of reproductive healthcare) in safe and legal ways, and the doctors providing those abortions are true heroes.

Reproductive freedom is a fundamental part of feminism and the women’s equality movement, something we cannot forget when celebrating and honoring Women’s History Month. We must remember what life was like pre-Roe v. Wade and pay homage to the doctors and activists who made abortion possible before 1973 while also working to prevent any future anti-choice attacks. This Women’s History Month, consider taking time out of your day on March 10th to honor abortion providers by writing a letter, composing a tweet, or engaging in many of the online campaigns held by pro-choice organizations across the country. Your words of support and encouragement will go a long way!

Recap: 2015 Virginia Legislative Session

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

The 2015 Virginia legislative session has officially come and gone. The past two months brought many setbacks and successes, but more importantly it proved that we can accomplish great things with help from our amazing volunteers.

For that, we cannot thank you enough!

In case you missed it, here’s what happened for choice during this year’s General Assembly:

Kathleen MurphyJanuary 6th: Virginians in the 34th district elected pro-choice champion Kathleen Murphy to the House of Delegates. Murphy claimed the seat once held by the extremely anti-choice congresswoman Barbara Comstock.

January 8th: In conjunction with other advocates for Virginia women and families, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia launched the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition–a new partnership to secure women’s equality and advance women’s rights throughout the Commonwealth. Designed to promote women’s health and safety, economic opportunity, and democratic participation, the WEA unveiled its 2015 Women’s Equality Agenda— a package of proposed legislation designed to progress women’s issues throughout the state in hopes of achieving equality for Virginia women.

January 22nd: In honor of the anniversary of Roe v. WadeDay of Action3, the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition held its 2015 Day of Action. Virginians from across the Commonwealth came together to stand up for women’s health. The day proved to be successful, as activists met with legislators, took to the streets, and made phone calls in support of reproductive rights and Virginia women!

In Northern Virginia, activists called over 80 legislators, urging them to vote in favor of SB 773 –a repeal of Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound requirement sponsored by Senator Mamie Locke. 50 lobbyists gathered in Richmond to meet with legislators and discuss pro-choice/pro-women legislation.

Day of ActionSupporters in Hampton Roads held a rally and made over 200 phone calls in favor of pro-choice legislation. A live tweet chat was held as well as multiple campus events–including tabling, a coffee chat and a giant social media push.

January 29th: Three proactive pro-choice bills were introduced before the Senate Education and Health committee and a group of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia activists were present to testify for each piece of legislation.

Senator Donald McEachin presented SB 769, a bill designed to repeal the current ban on insurance coverage for abortion within Virginia’s health care exchange. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated 7-8 (a party line vote) in committee.

Several pro-choice activist were present to speak out in favor of SB 733, a bill presented by Senator Mamie Locke aimed to overturn Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound requirement. Locke’s bill was also defeated by a 7-8 vote.

SB 920 was the last pro-choice bill to be introduced that day. Sponsored by Senator Jennifer Wexton, if passed, the legislation would remove the 24-hour mandatory waiting period prior to abortion. Unfortunately, SB 920 was also defeated.

January 30th: The House Courts of Justice Constitutional Law Subcommittee heard testimony from our activists and voted on the following pro-choice bills:B8ntQs3CEAAqyk3.jpg_large

  • HB 1524: Delegate Jeion Ward introduced a House version of legislation to repeal Virginia’s burdensome and medically-unnecessary mandatory ultrasound requirement.
  • HB 2287: Introduced by Delegate Patrick Hope, the bill would prohibit an employer from taking adverse action against the reproductive health decisions of an employee.
  • HB 1541: Legislation introduced by Delegate Vivian Watts aimed to define birth control to mean “contraceptive methods that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” and is not considered as a means of abortion.

Unfortunately, all three bills were defeated.

February 6th: NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia activists gathered at the General Assembly building in Richmond to witness firsthand how members of a House subcommittee would vote on HB 2321—a dangerous anti-choice bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation.

va signsThe legality of the 20-week abortion ban was questioned by members of the House Courts Subcommittee on Constitutional Law from the start.

After careful examination and questioning, the bill’s chief patron Delegate Dave LaRock was given the choice to either let the subcommittee apprehensively cote on the bill as is, or let the bill be pulled and reworked later down the road. LaRock decided to withdraw his bill – and women across Virginia breathed a sigh of relief.

February 24th: In a final anti-choice push, the Virginia House of Delegates introduced a budget outline that included many dangerous measures to attack women’s health. If passed, budget items 4-5.04 #1h and #6h would have stripped funding for low-income women who suffer tragic fetal health complications and uphold medically inappropriate restrictions on Virginia women’s health centers.

GA by the #s graphic

Thanks to the action from our outspoken volunteers, the Virginia budget included zero attacks on women’s health and rights!

Again, we want to think you for helping us stop #antichoice attacks during this year’s General Assembly. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We will NOT stop fighting for women’s health and rights–and we cannot do it without your support.