by Anna Malinowski, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Charlottesville Organizing Fellow
Do you know that a lot of Presidents were born in Virginia? Eight, to be exact. That’s the most of any state. If you grew up in Virginia, you probably knew that. In fact, you’ve probably been to at least two of their houses for school field trips. You probably also know that Jamestown was the first British settlement in the country, that William & Mary was the first college (don’t say that at Harvard!) or that the Constitution was formed around a document created by Virginia’s Founding Fathers.
If you grew up in Virginia, there are probably a lot of unsavory things you know about the state, too. Like how one of our major highways is named after the president of the Confederacy, or that we have the third highest execution rate in the country. Maybe you even know that Virginia law mandates pregnant persons receive an ultrasound 24 hours before they receive an abortion, at any stage of their pregnancy. Or that it’s illegal for Medicaid to cover an abortion for low income persons, where the only exceptions are for cases of rape or incest.
I’ve lived in Virginia most of my life, and finding out that such a great state had such archaic laws and regulations on a person’s right to choose tarnished my view. I immediately got involved by volunteering with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. Since 2014, I’ve been on the frontlines with Virginia choice advocates fighting to make reproductive health in the Commonwealth safe, accessible and affordable. We battled anti-choice opponents in front of clinics, at the Virginia Board of Heath, during every General Assembly session, and at the voting booth. We’ve lobbied opponents and allies, recruited hard working volunteers, and told our own stories in hopes of protecting Virginian’s bodily autonomy. And through our work, we’ve met hard working citizens who represent what Virginia truly is– a state filled with passionate, caring and determined individuals whose bodies and choices deserve to be protected.
So when recent news came out that so-called “progressive” Senators and Congressmen were asking state organizers to compromise their values by supporting candidates with anything less than 100% pro-choice voting records, I was baffled. Why not trust the very people whose sole job it is to advocate for choice in the Commonwealth? The organizers on the ground, not the politicians on the Hill, know firsthand the ins and outs of Virginia politics. These endorsements undermine our work by asking us to “give in” to the people at the core of anti-choice movements; the people who have been there every step of the way making sure our battles are not easily won. We already fight enough with opposing forces- getting pushback from people who we’ve called allies for decades makes it that much more difficult.
So now, I call on all the Virginians who stand for choice– speak up! Let Democrats and Republicans know you’re here, you care and you’re watching. Tell them that you and I won’t stand for compromise with people who want to rollback everything we’ve accomplished. We’ve played defense for so long, and now with the first pro-active bill to be passed in a decade having gone to Terry McAuliffe’s desk, we’re ready to play offense. Because Virginians deserve the best, and no political chess match is worth giving up our right to choose.