Last Thursday, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia members and dozens of women from across the Commonwealth woke up before dawn to drive hours to Richmond. They came armed with personal stories about the ways reproductive healthcare and abortion access have impacted their lives and their communities. Supporters, including students, medical professionals, mothers, and concerned citizens, were prepared to share their testimony with legislators in the Committee on Education and Health in support of two pro-choice bills: S.B. 1424 and S.B. 1549.
Instead of hearing us out, Committee Chairman Steve Newman (R – 23) shut down the debate, limiting the collective testimony to just two minutes before the committee voted down both bills, which would have relieved Virginia’s current intrusive, medically-unnecessary restrictions on abortion access.
Chairman Newman and the anti-choice legislators who voted against S.B. 1424 and S.B. 1549 refused to hear our testimony, but they can’t muzzle us. Below, check out what our advocates would have said to the committee, if they’d been given the chance.
We are so grateful to the volunteers who were willing to put their personal comfort and privacy aside to speak out for the women of Virginia. And while we may have been silenced on Thursday, we’ll never stop telling our stories. We’ll never stop showing up to defend choice and abortion access. That’s why we’ll be back in Richmond this Tuesday morning to advocate for the repeal of sham TRAP regulations and against the defunding of Planned Parenthood!
I am testifying today in support of S.B. 1424, Restoring Dignity to Informed Consent.
In September of 2014, I was sexually assaulted. When my period was late in October, I went to my gynecologist for an exam, where it was confirmed that I was pregnant. The next day during my sonogram, I found out I was about 5 ½ weeks into my pregnancy. I knew immediately that I could not move forward with the pregnancy that resulted from the sexual trauma I had endured.
I made the appointment for my abortion procedure the day of my sonogram and was scheduled to get the procedure done two days later. It was a long day and I leaned on my friends and family to get me through it, and I couldn’t have gotten through it without them. But more importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to make this monumental decision that would affect my health for the rest of my life without having had safe and easy access to abortion services.
S.B. 1424 would restore dignity to Virginia’s informed consent laws governing abortion. These bills recognize that after receiving medically appropriate counseling and information from her physician or healthcare provider, a woman should be able to make an informed medical decision without unnecessary, state-imposed restrictions. Requiring women to receive additional, non-medical information, wait a period of time, or get an unnecessary ultrasound procedure before making the decision to have an abortion violates the basic tenants of informed consent, and could delay a woman’s ability to access safe, legal abortion care. Private health care decisions should be left to a woman, in consultation with her family, faith, and doctor, not politicians.
I come to you not only as a concerned citizen, but also as a mother who had to make the single most difficult decision of my life to end a very wanted and planned pregnancy. Throughout our journey, I needed to know that the advice and services I received from my doctors were guided by their medical expertise and not my politicians.
Restoring Dignity to Informed Consent (S.B. 1424) recognizes that each patient needs to be able to trust her doctor in providing her with timely care, free from judgement and stigma. Virginia law currently requires physicians to communicate biased information about abortion to their patients, perform unnecessary diagnostic testing, and delay care for 24 hours against their patient’s wishes. These laws violate the basic tenants of informed consent, and delay a woman’s ability to access safe, legal abortion care by requiring multiple trips to a clinic for no other reason than to show the state’s disapproval of a woman’s personal, constitutionally protected medical decision.
While there were health related risks and issues involved in our decision to terminate, we were still making a very difficult choice. I couldn’t imagine having to make that choice under scrutiny by care providers who seem judgmental or doubtful toward my ability to make choices for myself and in the interest of my family.
I support S.B. 1424, Restoring Dignity to Informed Consent.
I believe it goes without saying that medical professionals are the experts in the field of women’s health. Requiring counseling beyond the recommended medical advice for a medical procedure interferes with a person’s ability to make a well informed choice, confusing medical advice with political, religious and cultural advice. As an American I hold dear our secular value system and our diversity of cultures and belief systems. This essential American liberty is one I always have and always will speak out and fight for. As a cultural Anthropologist who focused much of her study on the field of Medical Anthropology, I see quite clearly that the state is enforcing the cultural perspective of one small part of its population into medical practice, a behavior doctors strive to avoid in order to best perform their jobs. In Virginia’s current policy regarding additional testing and counseling for abortion, I see not only the basic tenets of informed consent being violated, but our basic freedoms as Americans.
No one should have the value and belief systems of other people’s religions or cultures imposed on them in order to receive a medical procedure that is their constitutional right. As far as I understand it, once something is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, it is a thread in our American value system. Delaying a medical procedure for 24 hours without a medical reason is a blatant restriction to abortion access, a restriction that for many women could impede their ability to receive the treatment they require and rob them of their freedom to control their own body. When individuals make decisions about donating organs, resuscitating their future selves or their loved ones, they are not shamed or manipulated with someone else’s moral impositions by mandate of the state. This medical procedure should be no different.
I am testifying in support of S.B. 1549, the Whole Women’s Health Act.
I have been a nurse for nearly 20 years, working in an outpatient OB/GYN clinic where I was the primary nurse providing care to women seeking abortions, directing a nursing clinic in an urban 65-bed shelter for battered women and their children, and working for more than a decade as a forensic nurse examiner. As a PhD-prepared researcher, I have studied the effects of domestic violence and sexual assault on women. I know that abortions are one of the safest procedures performed in the United States. Complications from the procedure are extremely rare. Medically unnecessary laws that curtail a woman’s access to abortion primarily affect the most vulnerable women — women who don’t have reliable transportation, who don’t have jobs that allow them to easily take time off of work for multiple appointments, women already having trouble making ends meet.
Many women do not have full control of their reproductive health. Women experiencing violence are especially vulnerable. We all know, I hope, about the terrible consequences of sexual assault on women, including the possibility of an unintended pregnancy. When I care for women in the hours after their assaults, many fear unwanted pregnancy. Birth control used after the assault prevents many, but not all, such pregnancies. There is another shocking form of violence that has been well documented by researchers but has received little attention in the lay press, however– reproductive coercion. Some abusive men will actively sabotage women’s birth control: destroying or hiding their pills, poking holes in condoms, and using other means. Some men use physical and emotional coercion to force women to engage in unprotected intercourse with the goal of getting them pregnant.
Elizabeth Miller, a pediatrician and researcher, has found that as many as one-quarter of young women seeking reproductive health care in one large clinic reported some form of reproductive coercion. An analysis of national data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System shows that women with unintended pregnancies are up to 4 times as likely to be abused than women with wanted pregnancies. A compassionate society will not make these vulnerable women jump through even more medically-unnecessary hoops to obtain safe, legal health care in the form of an abortion.
Along with my physician colleagues, I want to provide care to women that is based on the best science and on my patient’s values and needs. I have sat with scores of women making the decision about whether to terminate their pregnancy and with even more who have described the effects of unintended or mistimed pregnancies on their lives. Women are fully capable of making decisions about pregnancy termination as they make many other difficult health care decisions — they rely on medical information from their doctors and nurses, discussions with trusted friends and family, and their own values. There is no place for medically unnecessary restrictions in that decision.
I am testifying today in support of S.B. 1549, the Whole Woman’s Health Act.
I am a Virginia woman who continues to be outraged by the politicization of women’s reproductive choices. I was in college when I got pregnant. I was on birth control, but a course of antibiotics lessened their effectiveness. I was fortunate that I was able to locate a women’s health center and obtain a safe, legal abortion. The staff of the center was incredibly supportive and gave me excellent care.
Because I was able to obtain a safe, legal abortion, I am now a successful attorney, am married to a wonderful man, and have two beautiful children that I am in a position to raise. Virginia women, families, and communities benefit when a woman has access to the full range of comprehensive reproductive health care services, including abortion.
Whole Woman’s Health is the law; Virginia should take steps to enshrine it into state law by repealing state restrictions that impede access to abortion. Failure to do so could result in Virginia becoming engaged in a costly and purposeless legal battle that your constituents do not support.