What the heck happened during the 2017 General Assembly?

Part Three: The Activism

In years past, legislators in the General Assembly have come to realize that when a reproductive health bill is up for debate, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia advocates will be present to testify, lobby, and, if needed, protest.

This year was no exception.

NPCV advocates and volunteers traveled to Richmond nearly a dozen times to support the repeal of TRAP laws, oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, and demand that the people elected to serve them actually do their jobs. Take a look at the highlights:

Women’s Equality Coalition Lobby Day

We’re lucky to work closely with so many great organizaWEC 12.jpgtions in Virginia dedicated to promoting women’s health and safety, economic opportunity, and democratic participation. Together with these groups, we created the Women’s Equality Coalition to coordinate our efforts in advocating for women’s issues. Early in the 2017 General Assembly session, the Women’s Equality Coalition organized a Lobby Day to turn passionate citizens into successful lobbyists.

Among the volunteers who attended WEC Lobby Day were long time activists, college students, and first-time volunteers energized by the recent election. They learned about the Women’s Equality Agenda, got a lesson on effective lobbying, then split up in groups to speak to their legislators in support of or opposition to a handful of bills coming up for debate.

photo of group with Governor McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring
The Governor and Attorney General join a group of our WEC Lobby Day activists.

Despite torrential downpours, spirits remained high. “I was surprised at how open the legislators were to speaking with us, even if they didn’t agree with us,” said William and Mary student Hannah Ferster. “Especially now, coming right out of the Women’s March, this is such an important part of…making our voices heard.”

Hear Our Bill

When Delegate Dave Albo made the decision not to even hear debate on several reproductive health bills (read more here and here), we put up a fight. Del. Albo said he chose to bypass a handful of bills because he didn’t want the Courts of Justice Committee to work late over “liberal politics” that wouldn’t pass in the full House anyway.

Albo Protest.jpg
Protestors make noise outside Courts of Justice Committee hearing

We saw right through him. Together with our coalition partners, we threw together an impromptu press conference to condemn his actions. Del. Boysko, whose bill to codify Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt into law was sidelined, didn’t mince her words. “This is a consistent pattern with the Republican caucus,” she said. “They refuse to own tough votes.”

Our executive director Tarina Keene was even more blunt. “Refusing to allow public debate makes an absolute farce of democracy,” she said.

We didn’t stop at a press conference though. The next day, as the committee met to hear the bills that hadn’t been sidelined by Del. Albo, advocates and protestors stood outside the building to chant “Hear our bill.” Inside the committee room, delegates struggled to shrug off the noise before Capitol Police escorted activists off the Capitol grounds.

We Are Watching

As the General Assembly session advanced, legislators made it clear they intended to defund Planned Parenthood. Despite an almost guaranteed veto from Governor McAuliffe, the house of Delegates chose to strip funding from clinics that serve tens of thousands of low-income Virginia men and women. This was an empty and ideologically-driven victory, and we decided to call attention to the vote. To do so, we got creative.

PP Rally with Northam.jpg
LT. Gov Ralph Northam joins rally

After an enthusiastic morning rally outside the Capitol – visited by special guest Lt. Governor Ralph Northam – we filed quietly into the House gallery to watch the proceedings. When HB 2264, to defund Planned Parenthood, was called to the floor, our activists stood up to reveal neon yellow t-shirts printed with large block letters that spelled out ‘We are watching’ – a nod to the upcoming November elections, where we plan to hold anti-choice legislators accountable for their vote.

We are Watching.JPG

The Takeaway

In Richmond this session, we got soaked in the rain, escorted off the Capitol grounds (TWICE), and shut down by transparent political machinations. We also rallied, lobbied, chanted, testified, and sent a clear message to legislators: when it comes to women’s health and freedom, we won’t be bullied into silence. This November, we will remember the votes our legislators took, and we will hold them accountable.

Until legislators do their jobs, hear our bills, and pass proactive measures to protect and advance women’s health, we’ll continue to show up in Richmond with our signs, neon shirts, testimonies, and the special brand of gumption that makes NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia volunteers so special. Thanks for joining us!


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