by Anna Coughlan, Communications & Advocacy Intern
Throughout May and June, I have been heading up several tabling events for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia throughout Northern Virginia. Overall, the experience has been positively invigorating. I’ve been able to connect with all sorts of different people in the NoVa community, most of whom are pro-choice and excited to support our cause.
Most of my tabling has taken place at farmer’s markets across Arlington and Alexandria. Once the patrons get over their confusion that I have no carrots to sell, they tend to be very enthusiastic to offer their support—signing up for volunteering, joining our Choice Action Network, and adding their name to our petitions. We also have trivia games at our table, which market patrons can play for a chance to win NPCVA swag, like tote bags and water bottles. One game, “What’s Your Abortion IQ?” challenges stereotypes and assumptions by asking players to match statistics about the people who seek abortion care. Many players are surprised to find that 61% of women who access abortion care already have at least one child, and that the risk of a major complication in a first-trimester abortion is only 0.05% (that’s a tenth of a half of a percent). These statistics challenge a common stereotype we work hard to break about who accesses abortion care, and this game serves to educates folks that there is no one kind of person who needs to access a safe and legal abortion.
A second game we play with community members is called “They Said What?!” and offers a variety of anti-choice questions and asks people to match the quote to the elected official. Folks tend to be taken aback upon realizing that Suffolk Delegate Richard Morris compared abortion to slavery, or that Loudoun Senator Dick Black called birth control baby pesticide. We use this game to keep our politicians accountable to their constituents— and make Virginia residents aware of the offensive political stances taken by politicians elected into office.
A major goal of our presence at fairs, festivals, and farmer’s markets this summer has been to collect public comments against the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) in Virginia. In fall of 2012, the Virginia Board of Health instituted burdensome and medically unnecessary restrictions on Virginia women’s health centers. The Board of Health opened a public comment period that closed this past July 1, allowing Virginia residents to vocalize their opposition to these regulations.
All throughout the summer, many people I spoke with had heard of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case but were shocked to learn that Virginia has similar TRAP regulations, too. Hearing about injustices like TRAP gets them immediately riled up, and piques their interest in connecting with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia to help fight for their pro-choice values. Through our tabling in Arlington and Alexandria alone, our activists and volunteers helped to collect over 200 public comments alone, which were in turn part of the 5,500 comments delivered to the Board of Health by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our progressive allies.
Through these fun and exciting events, I’ve met such a diverse, supportive community of folks who are excited to stand with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. I have also met many women from the “old guard” of the ReproRights fight—women who were on the steps of the Supreme Court during Roe v. Wade, or who have previously worked as abortion providers and advocates. Several of these women have commented that they are so happy to see NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia at their local farmer’s market, and glad to see that we haven’t given up the fight for reproductive freedom.
Each tabling event gives me more positive anticipation of the future—so many Virginians support reproductive rights, and simply don’t know what they can do to help. Connecting with a community ready to mobilize reassures me that, with continued hard work and perseverance, we can change the face of reproductive rights legislation in Virginia.