On January 13th, just before the General Assembly gaveled into session, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia joined our Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition partners for a press conference to unveil the group’s 2016 legislative agenda.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia executive director Tarina Keene kicked off the event by highlighting the coalition’s legislative priorities to protect women’s health: closing the Medicaid coverage gap, obtaining a 12-month supply of birth control in a single pharmacy visit, and eliminating the ban on insurance coverage for abortion. These measures allow women to make deliberate reproductive choices granting them autonomy over their futures.
Keene stressed that expanding Medicaid to the 113,000 women who fall into the coverage gap is absolutely paramount this legislative session. Virginia women deserve quality health care without facing unmanageable out-of-pocket costs, which cause economic instability. “For millions of working women Medicaid coverage means access to cancer screenings and birth control, or going without,” said Keene.
In her testimonial, Elisa Farrow, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, shared that the Equality Coalition’s family planning measures are important tools to prevent unintended pregnancy and to help her plan her future. “These proposals will go a long way towards ensuring that as a young woman in Virginia, I can further my education, plan my future and live as a full and equal member of society,” said Farrow. Affordable access to birth control and abortion coverage are core tenants of the women’s equality agenda. This is because for women to live self-determined lives, they must be able to choose when and whether to have a family.
Progress Virginia executive director Anna Scholl announced the coalition’s chief priorities to advance economic opportunity for Virginia women: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, establishing universal paid sick leave, passing employment non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. These measures would grant women and families the financial security they desperately need and solidify the legal protections they deserve.
Janelle Lankford, a childcare worker in Richmond, spoke about the difficulty of raising a family as a full-time minimum wage employee. She detailed her struggle to find affordable childcare, finance her education, pay her mortgage — all while earning $7.25 an hour. “When you are in a position where you have to — not want to — provide for your family, you can’t live off of $7.25,” said Lankford.
This reality has consequences for women’s democratic participation. President of the League of Women Voters, Carol Noggle listed the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition’s democratic policy objectives: non-partisan criteria for redistricting and expanded absentee voting. Geneva Perry, a voter in the 1st congressional district, spoke passionately about the importance of including women in the political process. “Women need a strong voice at the table too, to advocate for the policies that are best for us and for our families.” Working women face overwhelming difficulties to make their vote count; this is an injustice we can no longer ignore.
Every day, the women are of Virginia face daunting challenges, but the Women’s Equality Coalition is committed to addressing gender inequities by championing these policy priorities to create a better future for Virginia women.
Click HERE to join the fight to advance the rights of Virginia women by signing up for the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition lobby day on February 3rd!