By Nicole Grim
365 days ago, the Supreme Court ruled on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt – and it feels just like yesterday. I had so many nerves, so many feelings of relief, of joy, of pride when the decision was announced— I’ll never forget how it felt, but it’s near impossible to put into words.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia showed up in full force for the ruling, and we weren’t disappointed. That day, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that politicians shouldn’t be able to impede access to abortion with deceptive, medically-unnecessary restrictions. The court made it clear that regulations to close clinics – such as those policing the number of parking spots, hallway width, placement of water fountains, and the many other ways anti-choice state politicians manipulate politics under the guise of “protecting women’s health” – do limit a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to access an abortion, and does violate the constitution.
Before the decision was handed down, we joined our reproductive health allies for a rally outside the court with our signs, guest speakers, and chants. But the crowds were massive, and growing larger by the hour—they spilled out onto the sidewalk and across the street onto the grass. I remember when Paul Ryan walked down the steps of SCOTUS, and the rustling of the anti-choice groups racing to get a spot by him as he waved hello and made his own stump speech. I felt so angry at how nonchalant he looked. We were hot, and sweaty, and our feet hurt from the hours on end we had been standing without a rest. Our voices cracked from trying to drown out the anti-choice chants, our arms sore from holding signs over our heads, trying to angle ours to block those of the other side— full of gross, shock-value images, false facts, and condemnation—from the press cameras.
And then it was like a firework went off. Pockets of groups dispersed through the crowd erupted in cheers, and screams, and hugs, and tears. It took me a minute to realize what was happening—there was no big announcement; we had to refresh the SCOTUS blog on repeat just like everyone else. As it sunk in, I felt a wave of relief, and incredible pride to be part of the movement that stands on the side of human rights, bodily autonomy, and safe, legal abortion access. Our pro-choice coalition had brought in a large sound system for the guest speakers, and a victory playlist. When “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore came on, I started to cry. Hundreds of us sang along en masse. It felt so, so good.
I knew this landmark case applied only to Texas clinics, but all of us in front of the Supreme Court also knew its reverberations would be felt across the country – and Virginia had already become the center of the battle.
Our Pro-Choice Champions Step Up
When Whole Woman’s Health came up before the Supreme Court, Attorney General Mark Herring sprang into action. He joined an amicus brief arguing in support of Whole Woman’s Health and against undue burdens on a woman’s access to abortion.
And he didn’t stop there. Before the Supreme Court even issued a ruling, Attorney General Herring followed up on his amicus brief by issuing an official opinion to the Virginia Board of Health correcting misinformation from his predecessor Ken Cuccinelli that led to the dangerous and extreme TRAP regulations we had right here in Virginia. By October, the Board of Health had rolled back the worst of those regulations – another exciting moment I witnessed firsthand (after a four hour wait outside the Board of Health building before the sun even came up, but that’s another story..).
But the fight is far from over. In Virginia and across the country, TRAP laws are still on the books and we will continue to fight fiercely until we fully implement the Supreme Court ruling and kick TRAP to the curb.
That’s where a few more of my favorite pro-choice champions come in.
This past General Assembly session, Senator Jennifer Wexton and Delegate Jennifer Boysko introduced sister bills known as – you guessed it – the ‘Whole Woman’s Health Act.’ It wasn’t just repealing TRAP from the Virginia Code—it was a blanket protection for Virginians against any law that placed a burden on accessing abortion care. The WWH Act would have repealed Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law, the forced 24-hour delay, and yes, TRAP too. Even though the Board of Health, under Herring’s guidance, rolled back what TRAP ‘looks like in practice’ in the Commonwealth, we won’t be rid of it completely until the Virginia legislature repeals the law.
These bills would have corrected a major flaw in Virginia law and brought the Commonwealth into alignment with the Supreme Court of the United States. But Virginia’s General Assembly is still controlled by extreme anti-choice legislators who will do anything to prevent a woman from accessing her right to an abortion.
So House and Senate leaders buried the Whole Woman’s Health Act before they even got to the full floor for a vote. I was there when they defeated the bill. We didn’t sing any Lesley Gore that day, but we know this fight isn’t over.
I can barely believe how much has changed here in Virginia in the last year. Only a year ago, clinics across the Commonwealth were struggling under the extreme regulations we’d spent almost six years working to repeal. Just a few months later, under the shadow of the Supreme Court ruling and with Mark Herring’s guidance, we won a major victory for women and providers in Virginia.
I framed my “I Stand with Whole Woman’s Health” poster from June 27, 2016 and I keep it next to my desk. It’s crumpled and bent around the edges, where my hands cramped raising it over my head for hours on end. It reminds me of the hard work we’ve got to put in to make progress, the victories we can achieve together, and the work we’ve still got left to do. And with leaders like Senator Wexton, Delegate Boysko, and Attorney General Herring standing with us to make sure Virginia adopts the full SCOTUS ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, I know the day is coming when Virginia also adopts the full Whole Woman’s Health Act. You know how I’ll be celebrating.