General Assembly Update: February 9

As you may know, yesterday was Crossover Day at the General Assembly. This means we are halfway through 2011’s session. We have had a wild ride so far, and still have work to do before the session concludes. So let’s get right to it, with this week’s General Assembly update.

Let’s start with the good news.

Pro-Choice Allies Defeat Bad Bills

A slew of bills that would place new burdens on women seeking vital reproductive care were defeated in Senate Education and Health Committee last Thursday.

SB 1207 and SB 1378

These bills, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and Senator William Stanley (R-Richmond) respectively, sought to grant “personhood” rights to fetuses. While this can often be a confusing and tricky issue, granting fetuses full “personhood” rights could have a range of consequences including making abortion illegal, outlawing certain forms of contraception, and potentially opening the door for abusive partners to press charges for “wrongful death” of the fetus (which sounds eerily like a bill that came out of Utah last year.) Thankfully both of these bills were voted down 10-5. [Watch testimony from SB 1378 online.]

For more information be sure to check out NARAL Pro-Choice America for a good description of “personhood” and overview of  similar measures across the country.

SB 1435

This bill, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke), would have required all pregnant women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before obtaining the procedure. Such a requirement places undue burden on women seeking vital abortion care. Thankfully the bill was voted down 11-4, with Democrats gaining the support of Senator Fred Quayle (R-Suffolk) [Find the full vote here.]

Unfortunately, such burdensome and meddlesome restriction is nothing new. Today twenty-one states have enacted ultrasound legislation. Nine of these states (PDF) require either verbal counseling or written materials to provide pregnant women seeking an abortion to access of ultrasound services. Three states actually require that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on an abortion seeking woman and give her the opportunity to view the image.

SB 1202

Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg)’s bill would prohibit private insurance companies from offering vital abortion care coverage. During testimony in committee, Senator Obenshain stated that women can make their own choices, they just can’t have their choices covered by insurance! [Watch the video online]. Fortunately, the Committee agreed the bill would endanger the life and health of Virginia women and voted the bill down 10-5. [Find the full vote here.]

Following last year’s health care debate, the US government voted to allow private insurance companies to cover abortions as long as they collected a separate premium from policy holders. In addition, states were allowed to opt out of abortion coverage. Currently states that have opted out include: Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana. Both Pennsylvania and Arkansas currently have bills in their congress to pass similar measures.

We applaud Senate Education and Health Committee for standing up for Virginia women and defeating these measures. However, the news was not so good in the House of Delegates.

Opposing Access: Putting Women in Danger

HB 2147

Anti-choice lawmakers in Virginia seek to continue the unfortunate nationwide trend of interfering in the private lives of women (not to mention meddling in the free market) by limiting or eliminate access to vital abortion care. Delegate Benjamin Cline (R-Amherst)’s HB 2147, would prohibit private insurance companies from offering abortion coverage for women. After heated discussion in House Commerce and Labor subcommittee #1 last Wednesday, the bill moved on to the full House Commerce and Labor Committee, which voted to report the bill 14-7. [Find the Committee votes here.]

Unfortunately, this past Tuesday, the full House passed the bill 60-36 with two abstaining. [Find the full vote here.]

Bans on private insurance coverage of abortion have been quite the hot topic since the federal health care reform debate. However, as the Guttmacher Institute notes (PDF), state bans on private coverage are not new. But, they are in Virginia where a majority of healthcare insurers offer abortion coverage in their private plans. This bill would take away coverage that women already have! Furthermore, it would be the first time the Commonwealth mandated that a procedure NOT be covered by insurance companies.

Fetal “Personhood”: Trouble for Women and Providers

HB 1440

Last Thursday evening, we found out HB 1440, patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) was to be heard in House Committee for Courts of Justice. This was quite the surprise, as the bill appeared on the docket at nearly the last possible minute.

Even more infuriating than this furtive attack on Virginia women, Committee Chair, Delegate David Albo (R-Springfield) refused to hear any opposition testimony on the bill! With the deck stacked in favor of this dangerous legislation, the Committee voted to report the bill 14-7 with Delegate Cleaveland not voting. [Find the full vote here.]

On the House floor, the obstructions continued. Although several delegates stood to speak in opposition to the bill, calling attention to the harmful unintended consequences, testimony was cut short as the pending question was called. Eventually, the full House voted to pass the bill 62-36 with one abstaining. [Find the full vote here.]

As we noted above, “personhood” bills have the potential to ban safe, legal abortion as well as access to FDA-approved contraception. Additionally, such a bill could cause women to be prosecuted for miscarriage!

It is absolutely indefensible that reckless, out-of-touch anti-choice legislators would pass such legislation so quickly and secretively.

Please express your disappointment with all delegates who voted in favor of the bill. Additionally, be sure to express your disappointment with Delegate Albo for refusing to hear opposition testimony in committee!

Finally, HB 1428, aka TRAP, a bill that would single out  first-trimester abortion providers from other doctors’ offices in Virginia and impose new, unwarranted regulations on them is in the Senate Education and Health Committee. This bill along with HB 1440 and HB 2147 will be heard in that committee next Thursday.

Whew, we know that is a lot. Thanks for bearing with us during this fast-paced General Assembly session. Be sure to keep checking our website, Facebook page or Twitter feed for more updates! As always, feel free to email us with any questions or concerns!

[Thanks to our intern Hallie for her work on this post.]



General Assembly Update: February 2

Happy Wednesday everyone! Welcome to this Week’s 2011 General Assembly update!

There is a lot going on this week as the Assembly prepares for next week’s “Crossover,” so let’s get right to it, starting with last week’s…

Pro-Choice Lobby Day!

This past Thursday, the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition hosted our annual Pro-Choice Lobby Day. Despite a hectic morning of cancelled buses, snowy roads and a cancelled flight from New York, we had a great turnout! We spent the morning meeting with various legislators, letting them know where we stand on choice-related bills and other issues, and had many positive experiences. Participants noticed that when they shared personal stories legislators and their aides seemed especially receptive.We then got a chance to see SB 967, which would require Family Life Education programs be medically accurate, pass out of the Senate Education and Health Committee! After the meetings and two great breakout sessions (one hosted by our former campus intern Anna, focusing on her excellent work on CPC awareness at University of Mary Washington) took to the streets, holding signs and letting the General Assembly know that we are pro-choice and we will not tolerate restrictions on access to reproductive health! Be sure to check out the pictures on Facebook. While we were rallying, a reporter from WRIR News Richmond interviewed us about the day.

We then marched over to the Methodist church for our lunch presentation, where Sara Hutchinson, the Domestic Program Director for Catholics for Choice was our guest speaker. She spoke about the influence the bishops have behind the scenes in Congress, the national reproductive rights debate, what it means for states and the importance of reaching out to every legislator asking them to support reproductive health access. Sara’s presentation reminded us all of the importance of holding our elected officials accountable!

Everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time, and we’ll look forward to next year’s Lobby Day (most likely with plans for a snow day)!

Of course, one major point of Lobby Day is to lobby, so let’s look at where the bills on which we lobbied currently lie.

HB 2147

Anti-choice lawmakers in Virginia continue the unfortunate nationwide trend of doing everything in their power to limit or eliminate access to vital abortion care. Delegate Benjamin Cline (R-Amherst), is the patron of HB 2147, which would prohibit private insurance companies from offering abortion coverage for women. This bill would even prohibit necessary care that would protect the health and life of Virginia women. Late in the evening yesterday, the House Commerce and Labor subcommittee #1 heard the bill. After the sponsor seemed confused about how exchanges would actually work, the vote came down to a tie, which means the bill was tabled! However, as soon as we left the room, we learned the bill was being resurrected and voted on again. The subcommittee called in Delegate Bill Janis (R-Glen Allen), the majority whip, to break the tie. Unfortunately, with Janis’ vote, the subcommittee voted to report the bill to committee.  This means the House Commerce and Labor Committee could hear the bill tomorrow! If your delegate is a member of the Committee, please contact her or him and urge them to vote against HB 2147. (Click here to find the members of the Committee.)

HB 2433

HB 2433 was a bill mandating ultrasounds. It would have required every pregnant woman to undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, placing yet another medically unnecessary, ideologically motivated burden on Virginia women. We recently learned the House version of the bill was deleted as the patron was over his bill limit. The bill has now appeared in the Senate as SB 1435, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke). The bill is currently in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

HB 1428

On Tuesday of last week, HB 1428 (known as a “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” or “TRAP,” bill, because it singles out abortion providers) was presented to the House floor. There were strong arguments on both sides. The bill’s patron, Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Augusta), described the bill as only requiring defibrillators and generators, which is false. It also imposes new, costly licensing restrictions not required of other similar medical providers! During the debate, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) introduced an amendment that would require abortion providers in Virginia to adhere to the standards approved by a 2000 South Carolina lawsuit (Greenville Women’s Clinic v. Bryant). Republicans responded by saying that writing court decisions into the code of Virginia would be a first and could set a bad precedent. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the amendment failed. During the hubbub, choice champion Delegate David Englin (D-Alexandria), argued that a vote for the bill was a vote against women’s access to health care. Be sure to watch the video of his floor speech!

Unfortunately, the House voted to approve the bill by a vote of 66 to 33. If your delegate voted for the bill, please express your disappointment that they would choose politics over women’s health. If your delegate voted against the bill, please thank them for standing up for Virginia women and access to reproductive health care. The bill is now in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Good News!

As we mentioned earlier, the Senate Education and Health Committee passed SB 967, the pro-choice Family Life Education bill patroned by Senator Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk).  Many organizations stood up in support of the bill, including Planned Parenthood, ACLU-VA, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Alliance, Virginia NOW, and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.  No one stood up against the bill! This is a victory for Virginia youth, as this bill requires Family Life Education programs to be medically accurate and evidence based! We expect the full Senate to hear the bill anytime this week, and it may come down to just a few votes. So please contact your senator today and ask her or him to vote for SB 967!

HB 2436 (Insurance Choice Act)

HB 2436, or the Insurance Choice Act, is our signature bill, patroned by Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria). This bill would maintain current status quo of abortion coverage for women in the private insurance market. This bill would maintain women’s access to vital reproductive health care! Suprisingly we did not get as much of a fight as we expected on the bill. For now, the bill was tabled, which is good news, because it means it was not defeated outright. Stay tuned for more!

HB 1488

On Friday, HB 1488, patroned by Delegate Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) was in the militia police and public safety committee. This bill would prevent pregnant inmates from being shackled or restrained during transport, labor or delivery. Other states have passed similar regulations that ensure the woman’s health and the health of her fetus. Yet Virginia continues to have instances where women are shackled and/or restrained during delivery! It defies human dignity.  The bill was passed by the subcommittee unanimously and then went to the committee right away. Unfortunately the bill was tabled after some debate. Yet on a positive note, directive for the chair, Delegate Beverly Sherwood (R-Winchester) will write a letter to the Board of Corrections to review and make policy regarding the treatment of pregnant inmates.

Whew, we know that is a lot. Thanks for bearing with us during this fast-paced General Assembly session. Be sure to keep checking our website, Facebook page or Twitter feed for more updates! As always, feel free to email us with any questions or concerns!

[Thanks to our intern Hallie for her work on this post.]

TRAP bill in committee tomorrow morning!

Yesterday, the Virginia House Health, Welfare and Institutions sub-committee voted to send HB 1428 to the full committee, and we’ve just learned the bill is on the agenda for tomorrow morning’s meeting. This bill, patroned by Delegate Richard P. Bell (R-20), singles out first-trimester abortion providers from among all other doctor’s offices in Virginia for new, medically-unnecessary restrictions that could shut many of them down.  It is an insidious tactic to decrease access to safe, legal abortion care in Virginia, done under the guise of protecting women’s health.

We cannot allow this bill to get out of committee. So if your legislator  is a member of the Health, Welfare and Institutions committee, we need you contact her or him today and ask them to vote no on HB 1428 and reject this attack on women’s health and rights.

This bill is considered  “targeted regulation of abortion providers” (TRAP) legislation.  If passed, it would force first-trimester abortion providers to comply with hospital-level regulations – restrictions not imposed on other doctors performing similar office-based surgeries such as oral surgery, plastic surgery, or colonoscopy. This law would mandate onerous, costly and medically-unnecessary changes to many providers’ physical offices and procedures, making it difficult for them to provide vital reproductive health services to Virginia women.

When asked for statistics or evidence to indicate that singling out abortion providers for such regulations is necessary and would protect women’s health, Delegate Bell has admitted to having none! He also compared abortion providers to barber shops! It is clear that this is a move simply designed to shut down as many abortion providers as possible. (Be sure to check out video of the hearing!)

Please, call or email your legislator today and ask her or him to oppose this unwarranted, unnecessary and harmful legislation! Click here to find your legislator. Sending a message only takes a few minutes but could have a huge impact on tomorrow’s committee vote.  Contact if you have any questions or want more information how you can help.