This month, the jam-packed 2016 Virginia General Assembly session came to a close. Thanks to the concerted efforts of our dedicated grassroots activists and volunteers we have many victories to celebrate, and several reminders of why it’s so important to remain committed to protecting choice in the Commonwealth.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia kicked off the session with two well-attended press conferences. The first was a joint press conference with the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition unveiling the 2016 legislative agenda to advance justice for Virginia’s women and families. This was followed by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s press conference sharing the names of the lawmakers who signed on to our “Statement of Intent” to protect women’s reproductive health in the 2016 session. 52 lawmakers signed on to our Statement in an impressive display of commitment to women’s rights and dignity!
On February 3rd, we demonstrated the power of our grassroots network at the first-ever Women’s Equality Coalition day of action. Our activists lobbied for meaningful legislation, including equal pay for women, an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave for all Virginians, and the repeal of the abortion ban in the state health exchange. Unfortunately, all these bills — which would have so benefited Virginia women and families — were defeated by the end of session. But we are not deterred by these losses, and we’ll continue to raise our voice for social justice and women’s equality.
We particularly saw the impact of pro-choice advocacy when Virginia women, medical professionals, and reproductive health advocates spoke out against HB963, a cruel bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Sponsored by Delegate LaRock (R-Hamilton), anti-choice lawmakers rewrote this disturbing bill no less than twice in an attempt to make it more “constitutional.” But fortunately, thanks in large part to the meaningful testimony of those women who would have been impacted by the legislation, the bill was shelved for the year. Unbelievably the revised bill was not extreme enough to satisfy anti-choice forces – yet another reminder we must remain vigilant of attacks on women’s access!
This session we also saw an assault on women’s access to basic preventative healthcare at Planned Parenthood. HB1090, sponsored by the notoriously anti-choice Delegate Cline (R-Amherst), would have gut state funding for programs at Virginia’s five Planned Parenthood health centers. The bill sailed out of both Senate and House chambers on party line votes, but thankfully it was vetoed by pro-choice champion Gov. McAuliffe. When debating the bill on the House floor Delegate Cline (R-Amherst), actually referred to women’s healthcare as “niche.” Women make up 51% of Virginia’s population — a majority of the state – and we should not be marginalized or demeaned as a small community. Women certainly deserve unequivocal access to quality, affordable healthcare – and such care is not “niche”.
It’s clear that anti-choice forces are no longer just inaccurate and demoralizing in their attacks, but they’ve become truly extreme. Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) filed a bill that would have required physicians to give erroneous medical advice to their patients about the effects of abortion, including making the patently false claim that women who have abortions are more likely to give birth to a child with birth defects! And who could forget Delegate Morris’ (R-Isle of Wight), insulting and egregious speech on the House floor where he compared abortion to slavery.
To combat this, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our allies pushed a bold proactive legislative agenda this session, with fierce leadership from our pro-choice champions in the General Assembly. SB53, Senator Mamie Locke’s (D-Hampton) bill to repeal the mandatory ultrasound law; HB592 Delegate Hope’s (D-Arlington) bill to require insurers to reimburse physicians for dispensing a yearlong supply of birth control at one time; and HB1225, newly elected Jennifer Boysko’s (D-Herndon) bill to repeal the ban on insurance coverage in the state health exchange. Despite the defeat of these bills, these pro-choice allies took strong stances and made impressive gains in a collaborative effort to protect women’s health.
Finally, we also claimed major victories in the final week of session. Our activists converged on the Capitol to protest HB1090, presenting nearly 5,000 petitions to lawmakers from Virginians who opposed the defunding of the state’s high quality Planned Parenthood healthcare centers. Thanks in large part to the effort of our activists, the General Assembly passed a biannual budget free from harmful anti-choice policies. And in a major coup, former Attorney General and virulent anti-choice proponent Ken Cuccinelli withdrew his nomination to Virginia’s Supreme Court, after NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and allied progressive groups protested his nomination. Our activists made phone calls, packed the Capitol, and wrote e-mails in a successful rapid response campaign to “Keep Ken Out” of the Court – a true testament to the power of pro-choice organizing.
We couldn’t have achieved these wins without the devotion and enthusiasm of our steadfast activists and pro-choice champions in the General Assembly. But the fight doesn’t stop now. We’ll continue working to educate, mobilize, and advocate in the defense of choice and equitable healthcare access for all Virginia women and families.