By Nicole Grim, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Staff
On March 12th, Virignia’s 2016 legislative session officially drew to a close. But not before Virginia’s anti-abortion Republican politicians celebrated the last 12 days of the session (and the start of women’s history month) with a wave of anti-women, anti-choice attacks. This month is supposed to commemorate the generations of women who championed long and hard for the rights we have today. But apparently the anti-abortion politicians find it fitting to try and roll back everything we’ve fought for.
The irony here is absurd. These are just a few of my favorite moments:
1. Republican Senators don’t want to listen to the stories of Virginia women who have received care at Planned Parenthood, then proceed to pass legislation defunding it.
On March 7, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, our allied organizations, and dozens of activists descended upon the State Capitol to deliver 4,400+ petition signatures from across the Commonwealth to Senators voting that morning on HB 1090, the bill that eliminates state funding for Planned Parenthood health care centers. We fought hard against this legislation, but stories from patients and providers, testimony from doctors and legal experts, thousands of petition signatures, and factual evidence did nothing to sway these Republicans from chipping away reproductive health care access.
My first trip to Richmond over HB 1090 was on Thursday, February 25. We brought an amazing group of activists together to testify at the Senate hearing where they would vote on whether or not to pass this bill to the full Senate floor.
“Do you want another week to ponder over this?” asked Chairman Senator Newman to the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Cline. By moving the bill to next week, the Republican Committee members effectively silenced our voices, forcing many activists who waited 3+ hours and traveled many miles to share their stories to leave without a peep.
The following Thursday, here we were again– a few hours in, prepared to testify. Five minutes were all we were allotted to share powerful stories of services received at Planned Parenthood. Why their care matters. Why they deserve funding. We begged for more time, given the importance of this bill and the treatment of our activists. Sen. Newman gave us two extra minutes (a whopping victory there) while other groups got 15. You’re telling me my reproductive health is only worth seven minutes of your time? One activist didn’t even get halfway through her story before being interrupted by Sen. Newman, asking if she could ‘speed things up.’
So when the GOP Senators passed that legislation by a party line vote on March 7, we marched all those thousands of signatures straight to the Governor’s office, where he has pledged to veto it. (You can thank Gov. McAuliffe here!)
Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood would effectively cut off funding for 22,000 Virginians to receive affordable, reproductive health care from their trusted provider. Many Planned Parenthood centers are located in low-income and under-served communities– places where other health providers aren’t accessible for those now left without care.
So thanks, Virginia GOP, for cutting off access to women’s health care.
2. Republican Senators nominate fiercely anti-choice Ken Cuccinelli to Virginia’s Supreme Court. On International Women’s Day.
Ken Cuccinelli was nominated by the Virginia GOP Senators on March 8. Let’s take a minute to review all the awesome things Cuccinelli has done for the women, and all people, of Virginia:
- He bullied the Virginia Board of Health into supporting his extreme abortion regulations, threatening they might have to bear the cost of their own legal defense unless they follow his line.
- He tried to reinstate Virginia’s “crimes against nature” penalty, blatantly attacking same-sex sexual activity by making it a Class 6 felony.
- He introduced legislation that enacted the “Choose Life” license-plate program, setting up a state mechanism to fund deceptive crisis pregnancy centers that use lies, shaming, and scare tactics against people seeking abortion care. Not to mention that he’s personally donated to many of them.
- He authored a resolution calling for a federal amendment to invalidate any same-sex marriage, saying “homosexual acts” are “intrinsically wrong.”
- He co-sponsored personhood legislation that would have outlawed birth control pills and other forms of contraception.
And yes, he’s compared his crusade to outlaw abortion to the fight to end slavery.
So thanks, Virginia GOP, for nominating someone who has supported TRAP regulations, Crisis Pregnancy Centers, bans on abortion and contraception, who is abhorrently anti-LGBTQ, anti-facts, and just plain disqualified for the job….on International Women’s Day.
3. GOP House of Delegates and Senate members collaborate to exclude new funding for providing long-acting reversible contraceptives to under-insured and uninsured Virginians.
When Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam proposed state funding to mirror Colorado’s highly-successful long acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) program, I looked forward to a Virginia where women would have more options to lead a self-determined life. But when the majority-Republican Senate and House of Delegates unveiled their joint negotiated budget for 2016-2018 on March 8, there was no funding to be found. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam wrote the following about his proposed program in the Washington Post back in July:
“As a physician, I’ve been closely following the outcomes and results of [Colorado’s] public health initiative. As Virginia’s lieutenant governor, I genuinely believe that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree that reducing unintended pregnancies, decreasing abortion rates and improving the health of mothers and infants are important public health goals that should be carefully considered and debated.”
When a program has been proven to decrease teen births by 40% and decrease teen abortions by 42%, you would think it would be a no-brainer. Over six years, Colorado’s innovative LARC funding did just that, through providing education, counseling, administrative support, and, of course, medical devices to patients upon request. LARC can last up to 10 years and have failure rates of less than 1%. They are also recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not to mention that for every $1 invested in Colorado’s program, the state saved an average return of $5.85 in Medicaid costs for prenatal, delivery, and first year of infant care. Colorado saved $42.million in 2010 alone. The savings to women are also astounding: the out-of-pocket cost for LARCs is between $800-$900, making it prohibitively expensive for hundreds of thousands of women who are uninsured and underinsured in Virginia, the majority of whom are part of working families. This program would have provided these highly effective devices to these women at no cost.
So thanks, Virginia GOP Delegates and Senators, for not funding a program that would decrease unintended pregnancy rates, decrease abortion rates, save the state money, and empower women to lead self-determined lives.
4. Republican-backed Sen. Jill Holzman Vogel announces she’s running to be Virginia’s next lieutenant governor.
On March 5, Sen. Vogel confirmed she was running to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I think this is an awesome opportunity,” she said.
While we’re all in favor of women in office, Senator Vogel’s voting record is decidedly anti-women– not so awesome. In 2012, Senator Vogel introduced Virginia’s infamous trans-vaginal ultrasound legislation, what then-Senator, now-Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam criticized strongly as “interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.”
Let’s not forget that The Daily Show skewered Virginia Republicans over this cruel bill; it was lampooned on Saturday Night Live, the Bill Maher Show, the Rachel Maddow Show, and made Virginia a laughing-stock nationwide. Called “state-sanctioned rape” by some pro-choice advocates, an anti-abortion politician justified it by saying it’s no different than the penetration that resulted in pregnancy in the first place. Are you kidding me?!
After national outrage over the transvaginal ultrasound legislation, Sen. Vogel pulled her own bill. Sen. Vogel said “it was never my intent to force a woman to have a vaginal screening against her will.” But even though she walked back on her own, extreme, invasive bill, she still supported a mandatory ultrasound requirement, voting for the anti-choice legislation we have in place today. Back in 2012, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said “this is a plain and simple attempt to shame and humiliate women and make it more difficult for her to access the care that she needs.” Her sponsorship of SB 484 was called “so tasteless that it offended the sensibilities of the entire nation” by Loudoun County’s Democratic Committee Chairman.
So thanks, Virginia GOP, for backing an anti-choice candidate in her run for Lieutenant Governor. And for our mandatory ultrasounds.
Want to help us celebrate women’s history month in a less ironic way? Donate now to help us continue fighting for reproductive freedom and women’s rights in Virginia!