Virginia Becoming More Hostile Toward Women’s Health

By Sara Cardelle

There is currently a National War on Women in the United States regarding reproductive rights. The attacks on women’s health care access range from attempts to defund Planned Parenthood (on Wednesday, Indiana became the first state to succeed) to requirements that pregnant women undergo an ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion. In total, there have been 916 state bills related to reproductive rights issues proposed throughout the country this year alone. Unfortunately, the war on women has been equally successful in the state of Virginia. We saw a total of 10 bills or amendments restricting reproductive health care proposed during the 2011 General Assembly. Three of the bills and amendments are now law and could have a devastating impact on women’s health and access to care in Virginia. At NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Choice Legislative Debriefing, Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, stated, “We have essentially overturned a lot of case laws since Roe v. Wade, making Virginia one of the less desirable states in terms of women’s reproductive rights and I think it’s just outrageous.”

Delegate Hope’s statement certainly rings true as we review NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s 2011 Legislative Scorecard.

In comparing this year to last year’s results, there is evidence of a push to more anti-choice partisanship. The number of Virginia legislators earning a zero percent pro-choice rating from has nearly doubled from 2010 to 2011. Last year, 36 delegates and nine senators earned a zero percent pro-choice rating. In 2011, the number of Delegates earning a zero percent pro-choice rating went up to 60. This means that, this year, 60 percent of the House of Delegates voted in favor of any and all bills and amendments attacking reproductive rights.

The number of Senators with a zero percent pro-choice rating increased to 15 which, like the House of Delegates, nearly doubles that of last year. There was also a decrease in 100 percent pro-choice senators (from 22 in 2010 to only 19 in 2011). This means there is no pro-choice majority in the Senate. This small but crucial change came into play often during the session, as we saw three bills or amendments restricting reproductive choice pass by only one vote in the Senate.

During the legislative debriefing, Senator George Barker, D-Fairfax, discussed this issue stating, “The pressure on [moderate legislators] is extraordinary right now, from all kinds of groups out there. And the fear they have is if they take a vote that is not an anti-choice vote, on any single issue, [these groups] will automatically guarantee that they have a primary challenge and in most instances will guarantee that they lose that primary challenge.”

This past session reminds us how important it is to make sure Virginians elect pro-choice candidates in the state legislature and especially in the executive branch. Of the three new anti-choice laws on the books, two were amendments from the governor. Governor McDonnell’s amendments include banning private abortion coverage for all women participating in the new health care insurance exchange, and prohibiting private insurance companies from offering coverage on abortions. The other amendment restores nearly $900,000 in funding for failed, abstinence-only programs. In addition to these two amendments (which are now law after passing the state Senate by only one vote), the governor will also have the final say on new, unwarranted regulations singling out first-trimester abortion providers.

This has been a hard year for reproductive rights in the state of Virginia and across the country. However, there is an opportunity for Virginia citizens to take our state back and that involves us coming out to vote this year on November 8th when all 140 General Assembly seats are up for grabs. The legislative scorecard gives you a chance to see if your legislator is pro-choice or not. I will certainly be taking that information with me into November, and I hope you will as well.

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