What the heck happened during the 2017 General Assembly?

Part Two: The Bad

We’re still savoring our successes from the 2017 General Assembly session, but we can’t forget the major defeats. With the entire House of Delegates up for reelection this November, we kept a close eye on which politicians supported pro-choice policies – and which politicians fought to block or roll back reproductive health care.

Unfortunately, we saw a lot more of the latter.

‘Day of Tears’ Resolution

The bad news started early this year, as the House of Delegates wasted no time in reminding us of the disdain they have for women’s reproductive health decisions. Just a week into the 2017 session, the House of Delegates passed a resolution marking the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision as a ‘Day of Tears’ in Virginia.

This resolution, introduced by Del. Ben Cline (R-24), called for the lowering of flags to half-mast on January 22nd. There’s no disguising the fact that this measure was designed to attack the dignity of Virginians by shaming those women who seek their constitutional right to an abortion. yet the House of Delegates passed the resolution 57-36, with only five Republicans joining the House Democrats in condemning the gesture.

HB 2264

Del. Cline continued to pursue his anti-woman agenda when he introduced HB 2264, to defund Planned Parenthood. The bill would have prohibited the Board of Health from entering into contracts with or providing funding to health clinics that provide abortion, in a clear attack on Planned Parenthood. Since thousands of low-income women rely on Virginia Planned Parenthood centers for STI testing, contraceptives, cancer screenings, and abortion, this bill would have seriously affected their ability to access the healthcare they need. The bill passed the House 63-34 and the Senate 20-19.

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe with advocates after signing veto of HB 2264

The silver lining: Governor McAuliffe made it clear that he would veto the bill if it passed, and he made good on that promise. In front of a huge crowd of women’s health advocates, Governor McAuliffe linked reproductive healthcare to economic freedom. He also made a clear case for electing another pro-choice Governor to the executive mansion, saying “this mansion is the brick wall to protect women’s health in Virginia.”

HB 2186 and SB 1549

As mentioned in our previous post, anti-choice legislators got up to some wild hi-jinks in an attempt to thwart proactive reproductive health care legislation. Delegate Jennifer Boysko (D-86), introduced HB 2186, the Whole Woman’s Health bill, which would have codified into Virginia law the Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. That landmark ruling declared that any burden imposed upon a health clinic with the intention of denying or limiting her access to abortion is unlawful.

The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-33), was quickly killed in committee. Del. Boysko’s version never even got a hearing. Calling it “liberal politics” and citing a reluctance to work late or over the weekend, Del. Dave Albo refused to call the bill before his committee, muzzling advocates who had traveled to Richmond to testify.

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NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia executive Director Tarina Keene speaks out

In a press conference, women’s health advocates slammed the decision by Del. Albo. “This is a consistent pattern with the Republican caucus,” said Del. Boysko. “They refuse to own tough votes.”

Our executive director Tarina Keene agreed. “By silencing opposing viewpoints and refusing to acknowledge the very real concerns of Virginians, the General Assembly is taking a page right out of the Trump Administrations playbook,” she said. “We are the majority and we won’t be silent.”

HB 2286 and SB 1424

Legislators have already ensured that women in Virginia must jump through a series of hoops to obtain an abortion. SB 1424, introduced by Senator Mamie Locke (D-2), would have removed a few of those barriers. The bill would have restored dignity to consent by removing medically-unnecessary, ideologically driven state-mandated consent procedures such as a listening to a state-written speech riddled with misinformation, undergoing a mandatory-ultrasound, and enduring 24-hour waiting period between the ultrasound and the procedure.

These measures were engineered to make it difficult for women to obtain an abortion. Sen. Locke’s bill would have corrected that injustice. Instead, Senator Steve Newman (R-23) shut down testimony in support of the bill after just two minutes – despite the fact that dozens of medical professionals and Virginia citizens were waiting to speak. The Committee on Education and Health then rejected the bill in an 8-7 vote, while the House version never even got a hearing.

The Takeaway

The Virginia state legislature made a few good calls on women’s health. But for the most part, they pursued an aggressively anti-woman agenda. They made it clear that their priority was to limit access to healthcare, shame and humiliate women who seek abortions, and shut down any bill that might ease onerous restrictions on accessing the full-range of reproductive health options.

The good news? Amazing activists like you refused to be silenced. Again and again, reproductive health advocates showed up in Richmond to make their voices heard, share their personal stories, or provide their medical expertise.

The better news? Every single delegate who voted in favor of a ‘Day of Tears’ or against Planned Parenthood is facing reelection – and we’ll be bringing the fight to them. Like Tarina said, we are the majority, and we won’t be silenced.

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