Special thanks to our intern, Claire, for her recap of yesterday’s events!
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia introduced our year-long investigative report about Virginia’s 52 crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) and its accompanying legislation in Richmond yesterday. Along with bill patrons State Senator Ralph Northam, Delegate David Englin, and Delegate Charniele Herring, we hosted a press conference on Wednesday morning to introduce House Bill 452/Senate Bill 188, which would place important regulations on the 38 CPCs currently receiving state-regulated funding from the new ‘Choose Life’ license plate program.
Delegates Patrick Hope and Scott Surovell attended the press conference to show their support for the legislation, while Legislative Assistants for several other delegates and senators came to take notes. Our press conference was well-attended by journalists from several major news outlets, in addition to staffers from interested non-profit groups and other lobbyists.
Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, opened the press conference with quotes that our investigators heard from CPCs all over Virginia, including untruths such as:
“The AIDS virus can swim through the holes in a condom”
“The risk of breast cancer almost doubles after one abortion.”
Tarina emphasized that misinformation conveyed by CPCs “jeopardizes a young woman’s future and puts her health and safety at risk, as well as that of the public at large.” She stated NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s legislative commitment of “working with lawmakers to make sure that women receive accurate information about their reproductive health and help curb some of these organizations’ deceptive and harmful practices.”
Senator Northam (D-6) spoke from his experiences as a pediatric neurologist who had the opportunity to provide medical care for pregnant women earlier in his career, saying “It is extremely important that these young women are able to seek medical advice that is in the best interest of their health and also the fetus.” He affirmed the aim of the bill to “ensure that expectant mothers are able to receive what I would call evidence-based factual medicine to be able to make decisions in the best interest of their health.” Delegate Englin (D-45) echoed Senator Northam’s statements about the aim of the bill, saying, “The fundamental purpose of this legislation is to ensure that women receive medically accurate information when they are being counseled at a very emotionally vulnerable time.”
Delegate Englin also reinforced the fact that this piece of legislation is not specifically a “choice” issue, saying “Whether you are pro-choice or whether you are pro-life, I hope that the notion of giving people medically accurate information is something that we can all agree on and then women can take that information and make their own choice based on their own conscience.” Delegate Herring (D-46) explained how this bill is a consumer protection issue, saying “It is dangerous for Virginia that these centers are giving women information that is not tolerated by licensed doctors.” Now that the state has tied itself to the ‘Choose Life” license plate funding mechanism, she says, “It is the state’s obligation now to make sure that individual women, when they walk into these crisis pregnancy centers, know, for example, that they are not constrained by HIPAA regulations and that the medical information that they hand to them is not necessarily protected.”
Post the press conference, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia made personal visits to each of the 100 members of Virginia’s House of Delegates and each of the 40 members of the Senate of Virginia. As you can imagine, this took all day! We brought copies of our report and the accompanying legislation, along with a fact sheet about the public health problems created by CPCs. We spoke to dozens of delegates, senators, and legislative assistants throughout morning and afternoon.
During these visits, we were pleased that staff members and legislators representing all parties thoughtfully listened to our spiel and engaged with us by asking attentive questions. We were honored to personally sit down and chat about our report and legislation with several representatives. One legislator we enjoyed talking with was Delegate Onzlee Ware of Roanoke (D-11). His moving story about his path to becoming a pro-choice leader inspired us to keep going throughout the day!