How we worked to #StopTheBans in Virginia!

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

stop virginia's abortion ban graphicOnly two months into 2015, pro-choice activists in Virginia and across the country have already fought back against record breaking number of anti-abortion bills. In fact, by the first week of February, state legislatures across the country had already introduced over 100 bills designed to restrict access to safe, legal abortion!

In Virginia, we saw our fair share of measures to shame women and attack reproductive rights. The Commonwealth was one of 14 different states to introduce a 20-week abortion ban – a cruel and dangerous measure that poses a serious threat to women’s health, ignores women’s health needs and individual circumstances, and seeks to ban abortions with only the most narrow of exceptions. You can read the full text of HB 2321, Virginia’s 20-week abortion ban, here.

Fortunately, pro-choice activists across Virginia stood with us to defeat HB 2321 and #StopTheBans here in the Commonwealth – and we cannot thank you enough!

Here’s how YOU helped us #StopTheBans in VA:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.33.29 PMIn the midst of phone banking on our 2015 Day of Action (celebrating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade), we were outraged to learn that a dangerous 20-week abortion ban bill had been introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates. As if introducing the bill on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade wasn’t enough, the extreme language of HB 2321 would have made any abortion after 20-week a felony offense, with zero exception for severe fetal anomalies or for survivors of rape or incest. In fact, the bill was strikingly similar to a federal 20-week ban that had been defeated the same day because it was so extreme!

We were seriously alarmed – and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia immediately took action to fight back. That night we alerted our activists, began contacting legislators, and started an intensive campaign to #StopTheBans in our state.

The response was amazing.

vols making callsVirginia Senators and Delegates received over 1,220 emails urging them to oppose the 20-week abortion ban, with almost 250 of those emails generated through Facebook alone! Our supporters made approximately 500 calls to activists in target legislative districts, and we generated over 50 calls from constituents to critical Delegates on the House Constitutional Law subcommittee (which eventually heard the bill).

Our dedicated activists also submitted 5 letters to the editor at various newspapers detailing the flaws in the bill, it’s dangerous impacts, and the need for Virginia lawmakers to trust women in making their own personal, private medical decisions. And when the House Courts Subcommittee on Constitutional Law finally convened to hear HB 2321 on February 6th, pro-choice supporters filled the committee room, ready to speak out against the dangerous legislation.

Five activists were present to represent and share the stories of Virginia women who sought later abortions. Four pro-choice doctors prepared testimony opposing the abortion ban and two brave Virginia women were present to share their personal late abortion stories. We cannot thank you enough for joining us!

Thankfully, all of our hard work paid off. After intense criticism from members of the House subcommittee HB 2321 was withdrawn. It was official: with the help of our supporters, activists, and brave citizens like YOU, we were able to #StopTheBans in Virginia!

va signsUnfortunately, we know the battle is far from over. By the time it was withdrawn, over 35 Virginia lawmakers had signed onto the ban – far, far too many. What’s worse, the bill’s sponsor Delegate LaRock has made it clear that he will bring the legislation up again next year. And with anti-choice legislators still dominating the House and Senate, it is critical that we remain vigilant.

Again, we want to thank you for all you did to help us #StopTheBans in Virginia. We will not stop fighting for women’s health and rights – and we’re so proud to have you with us.

20-Week Abortion Ban: Defeated!

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

On February 6th, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia activists gathered at the General Assembly building in Richmond to witness firsthand how members of a House subcommittee would vote on HB 2321—a dangerous anti-choice bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation.

Here’s how it all went down.

First off, chief patron Delegate Dave LaRock presented his bill to the House Courts Subcommittee on Constitutional Law. He claimed that he was sponsoring the legislation due to “fetal pain” — an anti-choice argument that, although it has been debunked by major medical associations, professionals and studies, has proved incredibly popular within state legislatures across the country.

Right off the bat, the 20 week ban bill received great criticism.

Even after praising the goal of the bill and expressing his support, subcommittee chairman Delegate David Albo stumbled over the bill’s wording and began to question the phrasing of certain lines and their meaning. Multiple times he stopped to ask Delegate LaRock to explain key phrases, to which LaRock himself–the chief patron and writer of the bill– could not answer.

As the bill continued to be examined, it became clear that Delegate LaRock did not understand his own piece of legislation. After many failed attempts to correctly answer the questions he was asked, LaRock handed the floor over to two National Right to Life attorneys (responsible for writing the model legislation) who he then relied on to field and answer the more challenging questions.

Many of those difficult questions came from Delegate Gregory Habeeb, who although he admitted his support for the bill, found many discrepancies in the way HB 2321 would coexist with the current Virginia Code. Habeeb raised great questions, many of which could not be answered by the bill’s chief patron or his supporters.

In the end, Delegate LaRock was given the choice to either let the subcommittee apprehensively vote on the bill as is, or let the bill be pulled and reworked later down the road. LaRock decided to withdraw his bill – and women across Virginia breathed a sigh of relief.

Although the withdrawal of HB 2321 was certainly a win for pro-choice Virginians, we still have much more work to do.

For one, many of the members of the House Courts Subcommittee on Constitutional Law expressed their support for the bill’s intent and purpose, even though they saw faults in its overall legality. While questioning certain pieces of the legislation, Delegates Albo, Habeeb and Kilgore (a co-sponsor of the bill) all went out of their way to express their appreciate towards and praise LaRock’s efforts to ban 20-week abortions. What’s even more unnerving is that a total of 29 delegates and 5 senators signed on as co-patrons to the bill–giving it even greater momentum if it were to leave the subcommittee!

Furthermore, Delegate LaRock made it clear that he intends to bring the 20 week ban up again next year – and despite their hesitation towards HB 2321, multiple members of the House subcommittee suggested that they would support a new and improved version.

Finally, the subcommittee only heard the voices of conservative anti-choice lobbyists and lawmakers — while Virginia women and families, including those present to testify in opposition to the bill, were completely ignored. While we’re thankful that the bill was ultimately withdrawn, the biased tone of the debate made it all the more evident that many of our lawmakers lack basic understanding about later abortion and the women who choose to access it. As we witnessed in that hearing, many Virginia lawmakers are continuing to attack women’s health and rights – often without hearing at all from Virginia women. This is unacceptable, plain and simple.

Here’s what some of our amazing activists and volunteers had to say about the hearing:

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Thank you to ALL who helped us fight back!

Loving the Movement

By Sarah Hogg, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

As we all know, February is the month of love. Everything seems to center around Valentine’s Day, and if you don’t have a partner, constantly being bombarded with messages of romance and true love can be pretty isolating. It gets hard to practice self-care when we’re saturated with the idea that our primary concern should be finding a partner. Furthermore, taking care of ourselves as activists is already a difficult task—while this line of work is deeply rewarding, it is also very demanding. In order to combat some of these potential negative feelings, I gathered a few of my friends and asked them to tell the world why they love this movement, both as a reminder of why we do the work we do and also as a reminder that Valentine’s Day doesn’t always have to be centered around a romantic partner. Check out the photos below!

Working on this campaign with my fellow reproductive justice activists and friends helped me ground myself this Valentine’s Day. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in all of the setbacks we face—with the rapid proposal (and passage) of anti-choice laws all across the United States, it’s no wonder we get tied up in the negatives. Getting burnt out is a normal thing—I don’t know any progressive activists who haven’t gotten tired, weary, and fed up at least once in their lives as advocates. Sometimes it seems like all the bad stuff out there is just too much to deal with. There are times where I don’t want to get out of bed because, well, let’s face it—this is hard. However, when things get rough, I think it’s especially important to examine why we do this, why we love it, why we fight. It can help us nourish our activist roots and allows us to grow.

I am truly in love with the work that I do. There’s nothing I love more. I know this, I’ve known it since I worked my first election cycle, since the first time I walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic to volunteer, since I ran my first campus campaign with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. I’ve never really lost touch with loving reproductive justice, but sometimes reminding myself why I do helps re-energize me and inspires me to do more. Furthermore, reflecting on this love is a form of self-care for me—activism in itself is self-care for me because it engages the deepest parts of me and lets me do what I’m most passionate about. Reconnecting with this love is healthy and feels really, really good.

The folks working in the reproductive justice movement are some of the fiercest, hard-working, resilient people I know. I’m proud to stand with them and work towards a common goal of reproductive freedom for all (one of the many reasons I love reproductive justice is that it is intersectional!). I’m thankful for the chance to get in touch with my roots with a fantastic group of young feminist activist.

So, this year (and every year), my Valentine is reproductive justice, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

An update from the University of Richmond

By Kristen Gell, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the University of Richmond. Connect with Kristen and the Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) crew on Facebook!

Things started back quickly here at the University of Richmond! We were able to get a lot done in such a small amount of time; it set a great precedent for the rest of the semester.

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Meeting the Delegate Carr during the 2015 Day of Action!

We started the semester off by participating in the 2015 Day of Action for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Most of SURJ stayed on campus and set up a table in the commons. They passed out sheets on how the legalization of safe abortion in the United States has lead to decreased patient mortality rates and improved the well-being of women, particularly compared to developed nations where abortion remains illegal.

While they held down the fort at the UR campus, I headed over to the General Assembly bright and early to participate in Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition’s Day of Action! We had appointments with both senators and delegates in which we either thanked them for or urged them to support upcoming bills to repeal the mandatory ultrasound requirement (SB733/HB1524) and the 24-hour waiting period between the mandatory ultrasound and abortion procedure (SB920) as well as a bill which would prevent employers from taking adverse action against employees for their reproductive health care decisions (HB2287).

In between meetings, we divided up into small groups and went to known supporters of reproductive justice within the General Assembly to thank them for all that they do. While many were out of the office, we were able to surprise a few senators and delegates! It was a great opportunity for us to show how much we appreciate all they do to further the well-being of Virginia women and families.

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In between meetings during the 2015 Day of Action at the Capitol.

The following week, I traveled back to the Senate to attend an Education and Health Committee meeting. It was here that aforementioned SB733 and SB920 would be voted on. The pro-choice coalition had a very strong presence in the room, drawing in many supporters of reproductive justice and health care. The entire permitted time for public comments was used.

I spoke out in advocacy for university students, talking about how legislature such as the mandatory ultrasound requirement disproportionately affects young women and college students who may not have the funds or ability to miss several class days and lack a mode of transportation to reach an abortion provider multiple times.

Unfortunately, both bills failed to report.

Back on campus, SURJ members worked diligently to design and finish our first zine of the semester. It was great to be able to get it all done in one sitting. We hope this sets a great precedent for the rest of the semester!

In this edition, we included some of the great student responses we received during our tabling event on Thank You, Birth Control Day last semester. We also included some of the quick facts we used. In addition, we advertised for upcoming events, including the documentary screening we’ll be having, The Vagina Monologues, which we are helping to fund, and our next meeting, in which we will be sending valentines to legislatures! We will also be passing out the zines at TVM. We’re hoping they’re a success!

With many great events coming up in the next few weeks, this is sure to be a great semester at the University of Richmond!

January with William and Mary’s Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX)

By Jenny Rossberg, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the College of William and Mary. Connect with Jenny at vox@email.wm.edu.

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VOX members Taylor Medley and Sadie Meadows

January was a short month for VOX, since we only got back to school on the 21st, but we’re already off to a great, action-packed start!

January 22nd was the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and VOX participated in several events in order to show our support for this landmark decision, including a small rally outside of the Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg and a tabling session in our student center.

VOX students and Williamsburg community members held bright, friendly signs to show their support for the Roe anniversary. Two members, Taylor Medley and Haley Arata, said the community responded very positively to their presence. People honked in support as they drove by, while others stopped to talk to the sign-bearers and express their support for the pro-choice movement.

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Some more of our lovely pro-choice activists, Ashley Meredith and Danielle Horridge

The next day, VOX set up a table with a Roe v. Wade anniversary poster and (of course) our usual supply of condoms, buttons, and information. Students were happy to see us tabling so soon in the semester, and a lot of new people signed up for our emailing list. In turn, we had a huge turnout at our first general member meeting the following Monday!

This month, VOX also got together to talk about sexual assault on college campuses. In our last general member meeting, we read several articles about UVA and the university’s decision to forbid sororities from going out on the fraternities’ bid night. Rape culture on college campuses, issues of victim-blaming, and institutional negligence toward addressing these problems head-on are just as relevant on the William and Mary campus as they are at UVA.

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All the pro-choice supports with their bright signs and bright smiles!

VOX works closely with the sexual assault prevention/healthy relationships branch of HOPE, a student group that promotes students’ emotional and mental welfare on campus. Later this semester, we’re planning to team up with HOPE and Lambda, the LGBTQ activist club, to sponsor an anti-street harassment week and address issues of rape culture and sexual harassment on the William and Mary campus.

Speaking of the future of our campus and our country, here are some of the super cool things VOX is going to do this semester:

Our main event for the spring semester is always Vagina Monologues. We donate all the proceeds from the show to the Avalon Women’s center in our area, so we’re looking forward to another successful performance and fundraising effort.

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The VOX table with all our condoms and stickers.

Of course, we’re going to continue doing Clinic Defense at a Richmond Planned Parenthood clinic and help escort people visiting the building past protestors. VOX is also hoping to organize some professor panel discussions about reproductive justice, abortion rights, and rape culture on college campuses. Those events will be open to the entire student body since we’re looking to engage a wider range of people. We will host a speaker to talk to students about sexual health and the risk of contracting STI’s, specifically HIV, and start a flier campaign to educate students about the lies and manipulation used by Crisis Pregnancy Centers to frighten women.

Overall, this is going to be an awesome, productive semester filled with feminism, fun, and the ongoing crusade for reproductive justice.

Richmond Recap

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Last week, legislators in Richmond debated several choice-related bills that, if passed, would have a direct effect on Virginia women and families. The NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia team was on the ground in Richmond hearing arguments, lobbying legislators & testifying on critical bills – and we’re here to give you a full recap!

In case you missed it, here’s what happened last week:

In the Virginia Senate

On Thursday, January 29th, three of our pro-choice champions were present at the Senate Education & Health committee hearing to introduce three important bills that would roll back the dangerous anti-choice policies of recent years. The room was filled with pro-choice activists & supporters who gave moving testimony & urged committee members to vote in support of women’s health & rights.

First, Senator Donald McEachin presented his bill SB 769, to repeal the current ban on insurance coverage for abortion within Virginia’s health care exchange. Arona Kessler is a Virginia women who gets her health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and she explained the importance of having coverage for abortion included in her health care plan.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated 7-8 (a party line vote) in committee. Thank you to Senator Saslaw, Senator Lucas, Senator Howell, Senator Locke, Senator Barker, Senator Petersen, and Senator Lewis for standing up for Virginia women and voting in favor of SB 769!

Senator Mamie Locke then presented SB 733, a bill to overturn Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound requirement. We were proud to have several pro-choice activists present to speak in support of this bill, including Kristen, a University of Richmond student and Joana, a mother and veteran.

As many of our supporters explained, requiring a woman to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion is a medically unnecessary political move intended to interfere with and shame a woman personal decision. Despite moving testimony, the bill also was also defeated by a 7-8 vote.

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Jill Abbey, administrator of the Richmond Medical Center for Women, speaks in support of repealing Virginia’s mandatory ultarsound law and 24 hour waiting period.

The final defeat of the day came in the version of SB 920–legislation designed to remove the 24-hour mandatory waiting period prior to abortion. As the bill’s sponsor Senator Jennifer Wexton and other supporters of the bill explained, the current law requires women to make multiple trips to their heath care provider before accessing a safe, legal abortion, which can be difficult for low-income women or women living in rural areas of the state. Unfortunately, this commonsense bill was also defeated. But we send huge thanks to Sen. Wexton, our activists & all those who supported this important pro-choice legislation!

In the Virginia House

On Friday, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our activists were once again at the Capitol to urge legislators to vote in support of critical pro-choice bills – this time the House Courts of Justice Constitutional Law Subcommittee convened. Once again, our amazing supporters volunteered their time to read testimony and ask for support – but once again, anti-choice legislators prevailed.

Delegate Jeion Ward presented her bill, a House version of legislation to repeal Virginia’s burdensome and medically-unnecessary mandatory ultrasound requirement. Like Senator Locke’s legislation, HB 1524 would remove the requirement that a woman undergo a mandatory ultrasound prior to having an abortion. Unfortunately, like Locke’s legislation, Delegate Ward’s bill was also defeated.

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Student activist Sarah Hogg addresses the House subcommittee in favor of HB 2287.

Next to be defeated was HB 2287–legislation introduced by Delegate Patrick Hope that would prohibit an employer from taking adverse action against the reproductive health decisions of an employee. After introducing his bill, the Delegate explained, “Your health care is none of your boss’s business and this bill says loud-and-clear — that employers may not discriminate or take adverse actions against their female employees.” Despite his efforts and the testimony from our volunteers, his bill was defeated on party lines.

Finally, Delegate Vivian Watts introduced legislation (HB 1541) that would define birth control to mean “contraceptive methods that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” and is not considered as a means of abortion. Under delegate Watt’s bill, all FDA-approved methods of contraception, including the highly debated emergency contraception, would be defined in the Virginia Code as “birth control” and not “abortion.” A final 4-4 vote failed to report the bill out of the House Courts of Justice Constitutional Law Subcommittee.

While we are greatly disappointed with the majority of last week’s outcomes, our volunteers and activists showed amazing support and our resilient performance left an impact on General Assembly.

The fight for reproductive rights continues this Friday, as we will fill the House subcommittee meeting room to read testimony against the dangerous 20-week abortion ban (HB 2321). Help support Virginia women and urge your lawmakers to vote against HB 2321!

2015 Day of Action

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Last Thursday, activists from across the Commonwealth came together to celebrate one of history’s most important Supreme Court decisions and demand reproductive justice. Day of Action

The 2015 Pro-Choice Coalition Day of Action marked the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and proved to be a successful day of women’s health lobbying. Participants met with legislators, took to the streets, and made phone calls in support of reproductive rights and Virginia women!

In Northern Virginia, activists received advocacy training and made phone calls to residents asking them to contact their representatives in support of critical pro-choice legislation. Over 80 legislators were also called and urged to vote in favor of SB 773 –a repeal of Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound requirement sponsored by Senator Mamie Locke.

In Richmond, activists put their training to the test and met with multiple legislators to lobby in support of reproductive rights. With approximately 50 lobbyists in attendance, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam kicked off the day with breakfast at his office before supporters split up to meet with lawmakers and discuss pro-choice legislation. Thank you to LG Northam for hosting us!

Further south, activists in Hampton Roads and the surrounding area took to the streets to rally for women’s health. About a dozen volunteers gathered in front of Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg to hold signs and cheer for choice as passing cars honked in support of reproductive rights. Afterwards, volunteers met at Old Dominion University for a phone bank and made over 200 calls in favor of pro-choice legislation.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 1.37.55 PMHoping to start a conversation online as well, the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition and Day of Action organizers also took to Twitter and hosted a live tweet chat. Organizers took turns asking and fielding choice-related questions and a discussed ways activists can make their voices heard and fight for reproductive freedom.

Finally, we were so thrilled to have student activists from across the Commonwealth also participate in the 2015 Day of Action! Students at the College of William and Mary and the University of Richmond tabled for the event, passing out NARAL Pro-Choice VA SWAG, engaging with students and petitioning for women’s rights and reproductive justice.

A small group of students at James Madison University hosted a coffee chat to discuss the impact of Roe and held their own tweet chat using the hashtag #JMURoe. Hokies at Virginia Tech recognized the event and collected signatures in support of the Virginia Women’s Equality Agenda. By the end of the day, over 100 students across the Commonwealth signed petitions in favor of women’s equality and her right to choose!

In the midst of our advocating, we were once again reminded why events like the 2015 Day of Action are so important.

As our advocates were making phone calls and reflecting on the anniversary of Roe, anti-choice legislators introduced HB 2321 in a late-night attempt to quiet our efforts and take away personal decision making from Virginia women and their families. This extreme bill would make performing abortions after 20 weeks a felony offense, with zero exception for severe fetal anomalies or for survivors of rape or incest.

It is because of bills like HB 2321 and the constant attack on reproductive rights that we take action in Richmond, call our lawmakers and stand up for Virginia women. It is because of these bills that advocates brave the cold, hold signs and speak out for choice. It is because of these bills that our presence on campuses throughout the Commonwealth continues to grow as more and more young people learn about their rights and stand up to protect them. T

he 2015 Day of Action was a success, but also a reminder of the work that needs to be done to protect choice and the reproductive rights of Virginia women. Although the battle is far from over, we are thankful for our advocates and supporters who helped us celebrate Roe and stand up for reproductive freedom.

Reflecting on Roe

By Sarah Hogg, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

Today, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I have a lot to think about. I’m thinking about how I’m 21 years old, and I’ve only been alive for half of the time period since Roe was enacted.

I’m thinking about my mother, my grandmother, my aunts and my cousins, all of whom had to live in a time where abortion was illegal. I’m thinking about how, 42 years later, we’re still debating whether or not abortion access should be legal, with dangerous new proposed laws popping up constantly in our U.S. Congress and in state legislatures all across the nation.

I’m a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a school with a population of over 20,000, with well over half of that population being women. Harrisonburg isn’t exactly large, but it’s not small, either. Its population is unique in that it fluctuates when JMU students return home for summer and winter breaks. Despite its size, there are no abortion clinics in Harrisonburg. In a town that claims one of the largest state schools in Virginia, with a reputation for its large number of women students, there is absolutely zero abortion access. The closest women’s health center that provides abortions is about an hour away, in Charlottesville, which is nearly impossible to get to if you don’t have a car.

So, today, while I’m thinking about the history of Roe, I’m also thinking about what it means to live in a country where abortion is legal, but is often difficult or almost impossible to access legally and safely. Furthermore, access to reproductive health services, including abortion, disproportionately targets minority women—women of color, low-income women, and disabled women—making it very hard for a large amount of women across the United States to get the essential care they need. Abortion access is one of the most targeted facets of the reproductive justice movement, evidenced by the huge amounts of anti-choice laws proposed all across the nation that specifically try to close clinics down.

Here in Virginia, this very issue has been a priority of pro-choice activists over the past few years with the introduction of TRAP laws—Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers—which have already closed clinics across the state. Thanks to Governor Terry McAuliffe and Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, TRAP is on its way to being amended, but the conversation about abortion rights and access in Virginia is far, far from over.

Right now in Richmond, the Virginia General Assembly is debating choice-related laws from everything to mandatory ultrasounds to repealing the abortion coverage ban for health insurance. Anti-choice politicians and activists try to restrict abortion access under the guise of women’s health and safety, a theme we’ve seen far too often in the fight against TRAP laws in Virginia. Proposing that clinics must renovate because their closets are too small or their hallways are too narrow is just a thinly-veiled attempt to close those clinics down—and everyone knows it.

The truth is that cutting off access to abortion (and other lifesaving and necessary services that women’s health centers provide) is dangerous, and is not helping women who need access to reproductive healthcare. 42 years after Roe. V. Wade, we shouldn’t still be having this conversation—yet, here we are.

The real defender of women’s health and safety is not an anti-choice politician, group, or law—it is Roe.

Today, I’ll be thinking about all of the above (and more), but I’ll also be celebrating and honoring Roe, and promising to defend and protect it the way it has protected women for the past 42 years.

A new ally for women: the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Women throughout the Commonwealth are about to get one amazing ally…

On Thursday, January 8th, in conjunction with other advocates for Virginia women and families, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia launched a new coalition to secure women’s equality and advance women’s rights throughout the commonwealth. The Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition will work year round to promote women’s health and safety, economic opportunity, and democratic participation – and we’re starting right now!

Led by members from Progress Virginia, Planned Parenthood, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women, The Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, AAUW of Virginia, Women Matter, New Virginia Majority, the ACLU of Virginia, and us, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the newly formed coalition believes that “women and girls everywhere deserve an equal opportunity to participate fully in civic, economic and political life irrespective of race, class, income, immigration status, involvement with the criminal justice system, disability status, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” Sounds pretty amazing, right?

The 2015 Women’s Equality Agenda highlights ten proposed bills and issue that it will be advocating for when state lawmakers convene on January 14. Each piece of supported legislation is designed to progress women’s issues throughout the state in hopes of achieving equality for Virginia womenVA WEA.

First, Women’s Equality Agenda is committed to promoting health and safety by repealing the mandatory ultrasound law and required waiting period for those who seek an abortion—a medically unnecessary and costly piece of 2012 legislation that has burden many women throughout the Commonwealth, especially those in poor and rural areas.

Also in regards to women’s health and safety, the coalition is committed to protecting contraception access, providing unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence who are forced to leave their jobs, and closing the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid—a move that would benefit over 112,600 Virginia women of reproductive age would currently fall into this coverage dilemma of both not being able to qualify for Medicaid nor afford private health insurance.

Next, the Women’s Equality Agenda is committed to ensuring equal economic opportunities for women throughout the commonwealth. With the average Virginia woman making just 80 cents for every dollar her male co-worker makes, the agenda includes SB772—an equal pay bill introduced by Senator McEachin that would prohibit the discrimination of pay wages on the basis of sex.

Raising the minimum wage is also a huge part of ensuring economic opportunity for some 500,000 Virginians, the majority of them women and working mothers. The Virginia WEA also supports measures to expanding access to paid sick days and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Finally, the 2015 women’s equality agenda is committed to ensuring that women have the ability to participate fully in political and democratic life. That’s why the agenda includes SB677, a bill to establish no-fault, in-person absentee voting that would ensure thousands of Virginia women – many of whom may find it challenging to get to the polls while juggling work, school and childcare – can cast their ballots and make their voices heard.

Nonpartisan redistricting is also a critical part of ensuring that women – as well as all Virginians – are able to have an authentic choice at the ballot box. The Women’s Equality Agenda supports impartial election maps so that that women can make their voices heard and fully participate in Virginia’s democracy.

Unfortunately, you and I know that Virginia has a long way to go before women’s equality is achieved. The formation of the Women’s Equality Coalition and the launch of their 2015 agenda is the first of many steps on the road to equality – and we’re excited to get started!

Want to show your support for the coalition and the 2015 Women’s Equality Agenda? Sign on as a citizen co-sponsor, share your story and make your voice heard. It’s time to send a message to our neighbors, communities and legislators that Virginia women deserve equality once and for all!

Volunteer Spotlight: Jennifer Rossberg

Jennifer (Jenny) is a Choice Ambassador and student at the College of William and Mary. After attending our Leadership & Advocacy Summit this summer, she went on to become a campus representative with NARAL’s Choice Out Loud program and has been highly involved ever since.Photo on 12-17-14 at 10.51 AM

1) What makes you pro-choice?
I am pro-choice because women’s rights are human rights, and abortion is a woman’s right.  I’ve thought plenty about the pro-life movement and what it means to believe that a potential baby’s life is more important and real than the life of the woman carrying that fetus.  I really just can’t understand that, though.  How could anyone look at a human being and say to them, your life is less important than someone who isn’t even born yet?  It’s like saying your experiences, your autonomy, all the events and places and people you love that make you YOU, those don’t matter anymore, your whole life is owned by someone else now.  And it’s not the baby that owns your life–although if you decide to keep it and raise it that’s a huge sacrifice–it’s the people who make the laws that own your life.  It’s these shadowy figures that work in the government who decide your life all of a sudden, who force you to be a parent or make you jump through hoops to avoid a life you know you don’t want.  It’s oppressive, it’s frightening, and it violates the basic human right that YOU control your body.  I am pro-choice because I will fight to make sure that the rights of women and people with vaginas are always protected from the people who want to take them away.

2) What made you decide to get involved with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia?
I got involved with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia because I was already involved with William and Mary’s Voices for Planned Parenthood club (VOX) and I’m always looking for new channels through which I can exercise my activism.  When I came to college a year ago, I immediately fell in with VOX and the other feminists on campus, so when I heard about a NARAL Pro-Choice VA leadership conference, I applied to bring the information back to VOX.  Not only was the instruction at the conference really helpful, but the people who worked with us and were incredibly passionate and involved.  I could tell that they were really looking to us to take what they were saying and run with it, so I did just that.  VOX already had goals of pro-choice activism and sexual health education on campus, and working with NARAL gave me the resources and structure I needed to make concrete events happen.
 
3) What’s been your favorite NARAL event?
My favorite NARAL Pro-Choice VA event was a Google Hangout in which me and a couple other VOX exec members talked to Julia Smart and other NARAL reps about abortion conversations.  We addressed how to speak to people on a one-on-one level about abortion rights and we also talked about the general public ideas surrounding abortion.  One of the big issues we discussed was the stigma surrounding current conversations.  Lots of women don’t want to share their stories because they feel ashamed, but that shame will continue to exist until more people start coming forward to share.  Because of this Google Hangout conversation, I organized an abortion talk on William and Mary’s campus this year.  Students shared their personal stories, anonymous submissions, and the stories that their friends and family volunteered.  NARAL was a huge inspiration and aid to me while I was organizing the event with the other VOX members, and I am so grateful for all their assistance.
  
Thanks for your amazing work, Jenny! :)