“Personhood” and Mandatory Ultrasound: What would they mean for Virginia women’s rights and freedom?

On the last days before bills crossover between the House and the Senate for this Virginia General Assembly session, one would think the legislators of each chamber might be be debating bills about the most pressing issues our Commonwealth faces — how to help Virginians and create jobs during the economic recession, how to cut crime in the Commonwealth, how to advance the education of our state’s young people.  But instead, the newly emboldened anti-choice majority in the House of Delegates  spent time pushing two extreme anti-choice measures and advancing them to the state Senate: the highly unpopular measure of granting “personhood” status and rights to fertilized eggs (H.B. 1), and a bill forcing a woman to undergo an ultrasound — even an invasive vaginal probe ultrasound — before an abortion, regardless of whether its medically-necessary or whether a woman wants it  (H.B. 462).

What are these two bills and what would they mean for Virginia women if the state Senate and Governor McDonnell were to approve them? Learn more:

Continue reading

House of Delegates approves both personhood bill and mandatory ultrasound bill

On the last day before bills crossover between the House and the Senate for this General Assembly session, the House of Delegates passed H.B. 1 a bill granting personhood status and rights to fertilized eggs by a vote of 66-32.

The House also passed a bill to force women to have an ultrasound — and potentially an invasive transvaginal ultrasound — 24 hours before an abortion regardless of if it is medically necessary or if a woman wants it. This bill, H.B. 462, passed by a vote of 63-36.

We are severely disappointed that the anti-choice majority in the House of Delegates has put their ideological agenda and political concerns above women’s rights and health yet again. What’s worse is the disregard that anti-choice lawmaker show for the real impact these bills would have on women’s lives. We’ll continue to fight these and other anti-choice bills passed by the House as they move over to the Senate side.

Read our full press statement after the jump:  Continue reading

General Assembly Update #2: February 9th

This year’s General Assembly is moving pretty fast as we find ourselves approaching the day when successful House and Senate bills crossover into the other body.

We’ve had some tough losses and a few bright spots. Let’s review what’s transpired in the last couple of weeks.

HB1 – “Personhood” 

Del. Bob Marshall’s bill still sits in Del. Dave Albo’s Courts Committee. HB1 may be heard this Friday, Feb 10, so there is still time to reach out to your legislator and Del. Albo to get them to vote against this bill. Del. Albo has voted against “personhood” as recently as 2010, so we’re hoping he still stands with us against this bill. No matter where you live in Virginia, contact Delegate Albo today and ask him as committee chairman to vote against this bill.

HB462 and SB484 – Mandatory Ultrasounds

These bills would force a woman to get an ultrasound before an abortion, regardless of whether she wants one or her doctor says its medically-necessary. This requires women to undergo a potentially invasive and certainly expensive procedure not for any medical reason, but purely to suit an ideological agenda. Del. Byron and Sen. Vogel are slowly advancing these bills towards becoming law. Unfortunately, SB484 has already passed the Senate (read our statement on this) and is headed over to the House. Del. Byron’s HB462 is scheduled to be heard today.

HB62 – Abortion Funding Repeal for Low-Income Women Facing a Fetal Anomaly

Del. Cole’s particularly egregious bill takes away insurance coverage for abortion care from low-income women choosing abortion in the case of severe and incapacitating fetal anomaly, further marginalizing financially-strapped families making a difficult decision. This bill cleared the House of Delegates (read our statement here) and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education and Health Committee. Please contact your legislator or Sen. Harry Blevins to stop this.

HB464 & SB496 – Health Exchange

This bill would have created a health exchange in Virginia while not allowing the sale of health insurance for abortions except when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or in cases of rape or incest. HB464 has already been tabled. SB496 hasn’t been heard yet but could be headed towards a similar fate.

HB1174 – Separate, But Equal, Health Insurance

Del. Marshall wants to make insurance companies offer two different health policies: one with abortion and one without. This bill has yet to be heard as it’s sits, lonely and cold, in the House Commerce and Labor sub-committee #1. It’ll probably stay right there.

HB1285 and SB637 – 20-Week Bans on Abortion

SB637 was heard and defeated on a tie vote, thanks to Sen. Blevins. His abstention caused a 7-7 split vote and the bill could not advance to the full Senate floor. After listening to a personal and tragic story from a woman that faced pregnancy complications, Sen. Blevins decided he couldn’t make a decision as important as she had to make. So he abstained. We’re hoping he does the same thing when HB1285 comes before him. **Update: Del. Richard Anderson has now withdrawn his similar bill from the House of Delegates! This is an exciting pro-choice victory against this extreme and unconstitutional bill. Read our press statement on the defeat of this proposal.**

SB627 – Wrongful Death

Sen. Stanley has introduced a bill that classifies a fetus as a person when it’s a victim of a wrongful death. It’s now sitting in the Senate Education and Health Committee. **Update: This bill has now passed out of committee and will move to the full Senate.**

Remember to contact your Delegate and state Senator and ask them protect women’s rights and health by voting against these anti-choice bills. You can find out who your representatives are and how to contact them here.

Be sure to keep checking our bill chart to stay updated with these pieces of legislation.  You can email me at sean@naralva.org if you have any questions about how to take action!

Thanks – we’ll be back for another legislative update next week!

Anti-choice politicians waste no time restricting choice

By Staff

The Virginia General Assembly began this past Wednesday. Only three days in, anti-choice lawmakers wasted no time ignoring the economy, education and transportation and instead working to intrude in the personal, medical decisions of Virginia women and families.

In case you missed it, here is an overview of this week in Richmond.

Allies fight back against birth control ban

Back in November, Delegate Bob Marshall continued his unending quest to interfere in the medical decisions of Virginians when he pre-filed the first bill for the 2012 session. HB 1 brings the “personhood” debate to Virginia and is so extreme it could ban the most effective forms of birth control as well as outlaw abortion in all cases, even when a woman is the victim of rape or incest.

This week, pro-choice allies in the Virginia General Assembly spoke out against the dangerous consequences of HB 1. Delegate Charniele Herring and Senator Donald McEachin called the bill exactly what it is in an article appearing in The Virginian-Pilot:

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, called it “reckless and divisive” and “an abhorrent attack on women’s rights.”

State Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, said the Marshall bill is part of a broad assault on abortion rights by Republicans at the state and federal levels, noting that some GOP presidential contenders have expressed sympathy for such measures.

We want to send a shout out to our allies, especially Delegate Herring and Senator McEachin for speaking out against HB 1. We know most Virginians reject Delegate Marshall’s dangerous proposal and we will continue getting the word out across the state about this extreme bill. Learn how you can get involved at our “personhood” page.

More obstacles for Virginia women

While NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and our allies fight for expanded and affordable access to healthcare for Virginia women, anti-choice politicians create more obstacles to timely healthcare.

Three days into the 2012 session and we already have four anti-choice bills that interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.

In the House of Delegates, Delegate Mark Cole and Delegate Kathy Byron have filed bills mandating women have ultrasounds prior to obtaining abortion care. Both bills require waiting periods between the ultrasound and the abortion procedure (with Delegate Cole’s bill requiring a waiting period of 48 hours). This will be Delegate Byron’s fifth attempt at passing such legislation.

Anti-choice Senators Ralph Smith and Jill Vogel filed similar bills on the Senate side.

Virginia women should have the option of an ultrasound if they request it or if their doctor recommends it. Politicians should not be allowed to put their agenda in the examining room with the doctor and the patient and add yet another financial and logistical obstacle for women seeking abortion care.

We have our work cut out for us this session, but we know pro-choice Virginia is strong. Be sure to keep up with the latest happenings in Richmond on our General Assembly page or on Facebook and Twitter.

Anti-choice crusaders seek to bulldoze through new regulations

Now that the dust has settled from the surprise last minute attack on abortion rights during this year’s General Assembly session, we can look back and see what exactly happened and what we can expect next.

Anti-choice legislators who oppose access to comprehensive reproductive health care have been trying to pass legislation for nearly two decades in an effort to restrict and eliminate abortion rights in the Commonwealth. Since anti-choice Republicans won big in the last federal congressional election, taking control of the House of Representatives, there has been an all out war on reproductive rights. But the “War on Women” is not just happening on Capitol Hill.

Last August, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion, requested by Sen. Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke) and Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) declaring the state Board of Health could issue regulations for first-trimester abortion offices. To clarify, this would single out abortion providers from other physician offices (dentists, cosmetic surgeons, LASIK surgeons, etc.) for potentially stricter regulations.

Cuccinelli’s legal opinion did not require the Board of Health to regulate, but merely said they could do so. Since August, the Board of Health has done nothing to offer new regulations, and was not showing indications that they would. With no new regulations in sight, we turned our full attention and efforts to the ever-difficult General Assembly.

Five months after Cuccinelli’s opinion, state anti-abortion legislators proposed a total of nine bills in both the House of Delegates and state Senate, which would seek to limit or eliminate access to safe, legal abortion in Virginia. We saw bills requiring all women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, banning all private insurance carriers from offering vital abortion coverage, three separate bills granting personhood rights to zygotes and the usual TRAP –targeted regulations of abortion providers – bill. Fortunately, regardless of whether the anti-abortion bills started in the House or the Senate, the Senate Education and Health Committee defeated them one by one.

By the second to the last week of the General Assembly, pro-choice supporters felt cautiously optimistic at seeming to survive another year with no new restrictions on valuable abortion care. During this time, anti-abortion legislators were planning their last minute attack on abortion rights. As we reported recently, in the closing hours of the 2011 General Assembly session, reckless anti-choice legislators used an unrelated bill to sneak in and force through a last-minute amendment targeting abortion providers. The amendment requires the Board of Health to regulate first-trimester abortion providers as a type of “hospital.”

The bill in question, Senate bill 924, had already passed the Senate. Delegate Kathy Bryon (R-Campbell County) attached the new hospital amendment in the House.  Since the Senate bill 924 had already gone through committee before the amendment was proposed, it was no longer able to go to the Senate Education and Health Committee with the new amendment. Through gimmickry, they managed to move Virginia backward regarding access to vital health care. Now the bill is on its way to anti-choice crusader Governor McDonnell, who has expressed intentions to sign the bill. Once the governor signs the bill into law, the regulatory process will begin.

After Governor McDonnell signs the bill into law, it will then go to the State Board of Health to determine the regulations for the abortion clinics. There are fifteen members of the Board of Health, eleven of whom have been appointed by ex-Governor Kaine. However, “by the end of his four-year term, McDonnell will have appointed 11 members of the board, which appears to have the power to reconsider regulations at any time.” The Board of Health has 280 days to design the new regulation for abortion clinics. In the meantime, the Board of Health will probably hold two public hearings before making any decision. There are currently a number of other states that are trying to pass similar abortion regulation bills.

Last Friday, the state Board of Health held their quarterly meeting. One item on the agenda stood out among the rest: the legislative update.

Normally, the Board of Health would take up to two years to adopt new regulations. The typical period would include several opportunities for written and oral comments from the public. The lengthy process makes sense. New regulations should not be taken lightly and both the Board and the public should have ample opportunity to consider and comment on how new rules would affect access to services.

But those opposed to abortion access are not about to give the public ample time to weigh in.

The staunchly anti-choice, anti-woman McDonnell administration and its General Assembly allies seem to be weary of any public comment derailing their assiduous, out-of-touch efforts to limit and eliminate access to safe, legal abortion in the Commonwealth. Therefore, they are requiring the Board of Health to adopt “emergency regulations,” a tactic rarely used in Virginia.

The emergency regulation process severely curtails public comment and essentially grants the governor the power to draft regulations of his choosing. Here is what we know about the process so far:

  • The Board of Health will study regulations in other states and have draft regulations available on September 1, which they will only distribute to the public by request. (We will be requesting the regulations and will make them available.)
  • On September 15, the Board will hold its quarterly meeting. At this meeting, members of the public will have two minutes each to comment on proposed regulations. Following comment and deliberation, the Board will vote on new regulations during this same meeting.
  • Once the Board weighs public comment and votes on the new regulations, the proposed rules will be in the hands of the McDonnell administration to shape, tweak and edit with no further review or public comment necessary!

Essentially, anti-choice legislators have found a way to bulldoze through unwarranted and unnecessary regulations that could leave Virginia with fewer than five first-trimester abortion providers.

So we have a lot of work ahead. We refuse to let anti-choice zealots operate in complete secrecy in their unrelenting assault on women’s rights.

Restricting choice in Virginia by attacking abortion providers

At the last minute, reckless legislators restrict reproductive choice in Virginia by moving to regulate abortion providers as hospitals

Anti-choice legislators in the Virginia General Assembly have been trying for decades to restrict a woman’s right and ability to access abortion care in the commonwealth in any way they can. In particular, they’ve tried and failed for years to implement targeted regulation on abortion providers (or TRAP) laws, which single out providers for onerous and unnecessary restrictions in an effort to shut them down and deny women access.

This year’s legislative session was no different. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia pushed back all session long against a series of legislative attacks on reproductive freedom, which up until this week were all defeated in the Senate Committee on Education and Health. After many weeks of fighting off anti-choice legislation in the House and Senate, it seemed that our battle to protect reproductive choice this session was finished.

But this past week, as the 2011 legislative session came to a close, anti-choice politicians mounted a successful last-minute sneak attack on Virginia’s first-trimester abortion providers and the women they serve. In the House of Delegates last Monday, anti-choice Del. Kathy Byron added an amendment to SB924 – a bill dealing with hospitals and nursing homes that originally had nothing to do with abortion – in order to change the definition of “hospital” to include “facilities in which five or more first-trimester abortions per month are performed.”

The amended bill was then sent back to the state Senate, where after lengthy and heated debate and despite the quick response of many of our members and activists to contact their elected officials, the bill managed to squeak by with a 20-20 tie vote, with conservative Democrats Senator Charles Colgan (D-Prince William County) and Senator Phillip Puckett (D-Tazewell) voting to approve the new restrictions. That left it to anti-choice Lt. Governor Bill Bolling to break the tie, and the bill was passed. This legislation is now on its way to Governor McDonnell, who has already promised to sign it into law. (See the full votes here.)

Over the course of two days of debate, our choice champions in the Senate stood up to support Virginia women by decrying this insidious and devastating attack on reproductive care. We thank all our allies in the Senate who voted against this anti-choice legislation (see votes listed here), but we want to extend special gratitude to the following senators who spoke passionately on the floor about this bill’s true motives and the devastating impact it could have on reproductive choice in Virginia.

Be sure to send a quick thank-you note to the senators who voted “no”, especially if you are a constituent, thanking them for voting to protect reproductive freedom and healthcare!

If your senator is one of the 20 who voted in favor this egregious legislation, they also need to hear from you. Tell them that attacking women’s reproductive rights under the guise of protecting women’s health is not acceptable.

“If anybody thinks this is about women’s health, get a life…”

So what does this all mean?

This new law will allow the state’s Board of Health to force first-trimester abortion providers to conform to medically unnecessary hospital-level regulations in order to stay open. By making abortion providers jump through onerous regulatory hoops not required of similar doctor’s offices providing outpatient surgeries, anti-choice politicians hope they can shut down as many providers as possible and drastically reduce women’s access to safe, legal abortion care in Virginia.

Throughout the floor debate, anti-choice legislators attempted to claim the bill was about protecting women’s health and safety. They made inaccurate statements to imply that Virginia’s abortion providers are currently unregulated or unsafe, which we know is completely untrue.  First-trimester abortion providers in Virginia already adhere to regulations from the Board of Health Professions, the Board of Medicine and other licensing and regulatory bodies. First-trimester abortion remains one of the safest medical procedures a woman can undergo, similar to or safer than comparable office-based procedures such as colonoscopy or cosmetic surgery.

As NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Executive Director Tarina Keene noted, “”This is not about safety for women. This is about ideology, and this is about politics…The women of the commonwealth are going to be the ones left to suffer.” In the words of Majority Leader Sen. Richard Saslaw, “If anybody thinks this debate is about women’s health, get a life. The only physician we have in this body has said what nonsense this is.”

At a time when Virginians are concerned about jobs, education, transportation and health care, our out-of-touch General Assembly has voted to remove women’s access to basic, vital and potentially life-saving abortion care. The passage of such far-reaching legislation will make Virginia the first state in the country requiring first-trimester abortions take place in a hospital. It could even make abortion providers adhere to hospital-like architectural standards. The rules and regulations for hospitals (including size of parking lot, hallways, elevator doors and other architectural requirements) would require massive, cost-prohibitive structural changes for most doctor’s offices that provide abortion. Most of Virginia’s providers could not afford the cost of $1.5 and $2.0 million in changes and could be forced to close. This would also leave Virginia women with less access to other valuable services besides abortion as well, since many of these clinics also offer basic family planning services, gynecological exams and other reproductive health care.

What’s next?

Senator Howell summed up the tone of the day by stating, “This is a sad, sad day for Virginia women and our families.” But luckily, this fight is not over with the passage of this legislation.  It will now be up to the State Board of Health to issue new regulations regarding abortion providers, which means we will have a chance during the public comment period to ensure that abortion providers and the women they serve are not unfairly singled out to serve an ideological agenda.

The passage of this legislation is also another example of why this fall’s election season is so critical for the future of reproductive freedom in Virginia. Yesterday reminded us too keenly of the fact that we do not have a pro-choice majority in either the House of Delegates or the Senate, and that the executive branch is decidedly anti-choice. This fall, with all 140 General Assembly seats up for reelection, we must protect our legislative allies and work to elect more legislators who will stand up for reproductive freedom. If we don’t, this legislation will just be the tip of the iceberg.

We will have a lot of work to do in the coming months to fight back against this attack on abortion access and gear up for this fall’s elections – and we will need your help every step of the way. Keep up with us on the web, through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and right here on our blog. Be sure to sign up for our Choice Action Network alerts so you’ll get the latest updates about reproductive rights in the Commonwealth and what you can do. And if you can, please consider making a contribution to support NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and enable us to continue this fight.  We can’t do it without you.

24 Hours to Protect Choice in Virginia!

We have 24 hours to stop the latest attack on abortion access in Virginia!

Yesterday, we told you about a reckless, out-of-touch last-minute attack on choice in Virginia.

Just to recap:

Earlier this week, Del. Kathy Byron (R-Campbell County) proposed an amendment to SB 924, changing the definition of hospitals to include “facilities in which five or more first trimester abortions per month are performed.” That means, if the bill passes and is signed into law, Virginia would become the first state in the country requiring first-trimester abortions take place in a hospital!

Because the rules and regulations for hospitals (including size of parking lot, hallways, elevator doors and other architectural requirements) would require massive, cost-prohibitive structural changes, most of Virginia first-trimester abortion providers could be forced to close their doors. This amendment would further limit Virginia women’s already-limited access to abortion; all for the sake of political ideology.

After hearing testimony for and against the bill this afternoon, the Senate passed by the bill for the day. This means they will hear and vote on it tomorrow!

It is imperative we not let anti-choice extremists remove access to necessary, reproductive health care in the Commonwealth. In addition to providing vital abortion services, many first-trimester abortion providers in Virginia also offer a range of reproductive care. Shuttering these offices could leave many women without access to basic care!

Because conservative Democrats such as Senator Charles Colgan (D-Prince William) and Senator Phillip Puckett (D-Russell) have come out in support of the bill, we expect the vote to be incredibly close. So please contact your senator immediately and urge her or him to oppose SB 924!

We will not let anti-choice zealots end access to safe, legal abortion in Virginia. Please stand with us and contact your senator today!

For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Urgent: Oppose Last Minute Sneak Attacks on Women’s Health!

Anti-choice legislators here in Virginia are making last-minute attempts to eliminate access to abortion, and we need you to contact your senator today!

After weeks of fighting off anti-choice legislation, we thought the battle for this session was done.

However, the House of Delegates recently passed a bill requiring the Board of Health to issue regulations for hospitals, nursing homes, and certified nursing facilities. Although the bill had nothing to do with abortion care, anti-choice delegates decided to use the bill to sneak through their ideological agenda.

The House passed the bill with an amendment changing the definition of hospitals to “facilities in which five or more first trimester abortions per month are performed.” This amendment subjects abortion providers to unwarranted, unnecessary, and costly new restrictions that could restrict or end access to first-trimester abortion in Virginia!

We must not let this last-minute effort pass in our state. If it does, it could have incredibly serious consequences for the reproductive health and rights of Virginia women!

The bill will most likely be heard this morning, so please contact your senator today and ask him or her to oppose SB 924!

P.S.  For the text of the bill, including the amendment, click here. As always, feel free to contact us for more information.

A Last Minute Attempt to Eliminate Access to Abortions!

Yesterday the House of Delegates in Virginia passed SB 924. This bill would require the Board of Health to issue regulations for hospitals, nursing homes, and certified nursing facilities. As originally written, the bill has nothing to do with abortion. Unfortunately, anti-choice Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Campbell County) offered an amendment changing the definition of hospitals to include “facilities in which five or more first trimester abortions per month are performed.” Disappointingly, the House passed the bill as amended 67-32.  Now the bill goes back before the full Senate and we must ask them to oppose this egregious affront on women’s safety!

This bill would place expensive, unnecessary and unwarranted new restrictions and costs on first-trimester abortion providers. Currently first-trimester abortion offices are classified as outpatient facilities, similar to dentist offices and cosmetic-surgery centers. Classifying abortion offices as “hospitals” could potentially cause the majority to shut their doors and cease providing quality, necessary abortion care!

This bill is just another sneaky way to restrict abortion in Virginia with no regard to the health and safety of Virginia women. As we have discussed before, first-trimester abortion providers in Virginia already adhere to regulations from the Board of Health Professions, the Board of Medicine and other licensing bodies and regulations. First-trimester abortion remains one of the safest procedures a woman can undergo, similar to or safer than comparable office-based procedures such as colonoscopy or cosmetic surgery.

So far during the session, the Senate has wisely defeated several anti-choice measures that would further restrict or eliminate access to safe, legal abortion. So let’s see this bill for what it is: a last-ditch political attempt to eliminate access to safe, legal abortions for Virginia women.

We must not let this last-minute effort pass. If it does, it could have incredibly serious consequences for the reproductive health and rights of Virginia women!

Please, contact your senator immediately and ask them to oppose SB 924!

To find out who your senator is click here.

As always, please contact us for more information.