By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On 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.
Here’s how it all went down.
First off, chief patron Delegate Dave LaRock presented his bill to the House Courts Subcommittee on Constitutional Law. He claimed that he was sponsoring the legislation due to “fetal pain” — an anti-choice argument that, although it has been debunked by major medical associations, professionals and studies, has proved incredibly popular within state legislatures across the country.
Right off the bat, the 20 week ban bill received great criticism.
Even after praising the goal of the bill and expressing his support, subcommittee chairman Delegate David Albo stumbled over the bill’s wording and began to question the phrasing of certain lines and their meaning. Multiple times he stopped to ask Delegate LaRock to explain key phrases, to which LaRock himself–the chief patron and writer of the bill– could not answer.
As the bill continued to be examined, it became clear that Delegate LaRock did not understand his own piece of legislation. After many failed attempts to correctly answer the questions he was asked, LaRock handed the floor over to two National Right to Life attorneys (responsible for writing the model legislation) who he then relied on to field and answer the more challenging questions.
Many of those difficult questions came from Delegate Gregory Habeeb, who although he admitted his support for the bill, found many discrepancies in the way HB 2321 would coexist with the current Virginia Code. Habeeb raised great questions, many of which could not be answered by the bill’s chief patron or his supporters.
In the end, Delegate LaRock was given the choice to either let the subcommittee apprehensively vote 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.
Although the withdrawal of HB 2321 was certainly a win for pro-choice Virginians, we still have much more work to do.
For one, many of the members of the House Courts Subcommittee on Constitutional Law expressed their support for the bill’s intent and purpose, even though they saw faults in its overall legality. While questioning certain pieces of the legislation, Delegates Albo, Habeeb and Kilgore (a co-sponsor of the bill) all went out of their way to express their appreciate towards and praise LaRock’s efforts to ban 20-week abortions. What’s even more unnerving is that a total of 29 delegates and 5 senators signed on as co-patrons to the bill–giving it even greater momentum if it were to leave the subcommittee!
Furthermore, Delegate LaRock made it clear that he intends to bring the 20 week ban up again next year – and despite their hesitation towards HB 2321, multiple members of the House subcommittee suggested that they would support a new and improved version.
Finally, the subcommittee only heard the voices of conservative anti-choice lobbyists and lawmakers — while Virginia women and families, including those present to testify in opposition to the bill, were completely ignored. While we’re thankful that the bill was ultimately withdrawn, the biased tone of the debate made it all the more evident that many of our lawmakers lack basic understanding about later abortion and the women who choose to access it. As we witnessed in that hearing, many Virginia lawmakers are continuing to attack women’s health and rights – often without hearing at all from Virginia women. This is unacceptable, plain and simple.
Here’s what some of our amazing activists and volunteers had to say about the hearing:
Thank you to ALL who helped us fight back!