by Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia
The 2012 Virginia General Assembly session has finally come to an end. However, the general assembly adjourned without passing a budget because pro-choice senators would not stand by while funding for initiatives like the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPI) were being cut. They have a list of demands that they would like funded before they are willing to budge.
We are hoping the TPPI money will be restored since these programs have shown real progress in reducing teen pregnancy in areas of the state with the highest rates. It’s not too late to let your legislator know that you think restoring TPPI funding and helping teens make healthy, responsible decisions should be a priority in budget negotiations. (Not sure who your legislator is? Check here to find out.)
Below is a quick choice-related wrap up on the good, the bad and the ugly of this session. To tell you the truth, in December, we feared we would see the passage of “personhood” and many other anti-choice priorities. It just goes to show that a lot of hard work and public outreach can go a long, long way! We could not have defeated the bills that we did without the support and action of our members, activists and allies.
Here is a quick run through of both our successes and difficult losses this year:
H.B. 1 – H.B.1, the “personhood” for fertilized eggs bill, passed in the House of Delegates as we expected (an almost identical bill had been passed by the House in 2011), but then was shockingly also advanced by the Senate Education and Health Committee, after politicians from both parties had predicted its demise there. Fortunately, good sense won out, as moderates in the full Senate split from the more conservative committee members to vote against this bill and vote to send it back to the committee (aka “recommit”). This means the bill did not pass the full Senate this year, but will be brought back for next year’s session. The defeat of this bill this year was made possible by a coalition of women’s rights and health advocates who came together to point out this legislation’s unpredictable, far-reaching consequences for everything from abortion and miscarriage to birth control and in vitro fertilization.
H.B. 62 – This was the callous attempt by Del. Mark Cole (R-Stafford) to end state health care funding for abortion services for low-income women in the cases of dangerous fetal anomalies. (As you may remember, the General Assembly has already narrowed the exceptions under which a Medicaid-eligible woman can receive coverage for abortion care to While these occurrences are rare, they can be emotionally and financially devastating diagnoses for families. No woman should be abandoned during this traumatic time just because she gets her health care through the state. the The bill passed the House of Delegates and the Senate Committee on Education and Health, but was then struck down in the Senate Finance Committee. During the committee hearing process, women from across Virginia came to speak about the difficult choice to have an abortion in cases of severe fetal anomaly, and lawmakers heard about the serious impact this bill would have on low-income families facing this situation.
H.B. 1285/S.B. 637 –A completely unconstitutional measure designed to set up a challenge to Roe v. Wade, these bills would have banned abortion for any reason after 20 weeks, with only narrow exceptions for the life of the woman. We helped to defeat this bill by bringing a Haymarket woman, Tara Schleifer, to testify to the committee about terminating her much-wanted pregnancy after 20 weeks due to severe complications. Sen. Harry Blevins abstained from the vote, saying, “It was just traumatic for me to sit there and think about what that woman was going through and not give her any consideration.” Sen. Blevins’ abstention resulted in the defeat of the bill. When the House version then came up for a vote, the patron struck the bill citing constitutional issues! But rest assured, bills like this will be back in the future as anti-choice lawmakers continue their movement to chip away at abortion rights and bring challenges to Supreme Court precedent.
H.B. 462 – It’s gut-wrenching to think that after all the media scrutiny and protests by ordinary women and men around mandatory ultrasounds, Gov. McDonnell still signed this egregious piece of legislation into law. But what I’ve learned over the last few sessions is to never count women out. This is not over – when looking at what we’ve accomplished around this bill, I would hardly call it a “defeat.” But there is more work to be done.
In January, a total of four ultrasound bills were introduced between the House and Senate. S.B.484 and H.B.462 were identical and sponsored by the Family Foundation of Virginia. The faith-based organization touted in an email to their supporters that mandatory ultrasound was their “#1 priority.” The governor then stated several different times that he supported the legislation, as he had authored similar legislation when he was a Delegate.
Massive protests and the legislative battle led by our pro-choice allies in the General Assembly garnered local and national media coverage from the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, MSNBC, CNN, and the Guardian UK.
The governor tried to cover his tracks by “amending” the bill, but his attempts just added insult to injury. The amended version still mandates women to undergo and pay for an abdominal ultrasound even it is against her wishes and even if a doctor doesn’t recommend it.
Thousands of women protested on the Capitol grounds and some were even arrested! Unfortunately, Gov. McDonnell still signed H.B.462 into law last Wednesday.
Gov. Bob McDonnell and the Virginia General Assembly have awakened a sleeping giant, just in time for the 2012 and 2013 election cycles. Women are 51% of the population of the Commonwealth, and are tried and true voters. They will not forget this year, nor will they forget next year. Change is coming.
Keep an eye out soon for the release of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s 2012 Legislative Scorecard, outlining General Assembly members’ votes on each of these bills and giving them a rating for their voting record this year. We’ll let you know how you can thank your legislators for their support — or let them know that you’re disappointed and will hold them accountable.
We’ll be keeping the political pressure up and working to make sure pro-choice Virginians remember what we’ve seen from anti-choice politicians in Richmond this session — especially when they go to the polls next year in the critical 2013 election for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and the House of Delegates.