Senate committee rejects bill targeting low-income women with severely complicated pregnancies

Good news from the Virginia Senate this morning! We can add H.B. 62, a bill seeking to defund health care coverage for low-income women who choose abortion because of serious fetal anomaly,  to the list of anti-choice bills rejected by the General Assembly this year. (This list already includes the infamous “personhood” for fertilized eggs bill H.B. 1 that the Senate shelved last week, as well as as S.B. 637, which would have outright banned later abortions with only the narrowest exceptions and set up a challenge to Roe v. Wade.)

This morning the Senate Committee on Finance voted to “pass by” H.B. 62 indefinitely, meaning it will not move on to the full Senate for a vote. The bill had previously been approved by the Senate Committee on Education and Health (see our tweets from that hearing here), but an amendment added there had sent the bill to the Finance committee, where it was ultimately rejected. See below for our statement on this legislative victory:

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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!

Pro-Choice Candidate of the Day: Senator Ralph Northam, Senate District 6

We’re less than two weeks away from one of the biggest elections for reproductive choice in Virginia in years. On Tuesday, November 8, Virginians will go to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats. All this week on the blog, we are spotlighting pro-choice candidates of the day in key races across the state, so you know who will stand up for women’s rights and health in Richmond and who we’re working to help elect this fall!

Senator Ralph Northam

Today we continue our pro-choice spotlight by heading to the Tidewater and Eastern Shore region of Virginia and Senate District 6, which encompasses all of Accomack, Northampton and Mathews counties, and portions of the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

In this race, Senator Ralph Northam is the pro-choice candidate.

Senator Northam, an M.D. specializing in pediatric neurology, has been an outspoken and tireless champion for women’s health while in the state Senate. Like other senators in this week’s spotlights, Senator Northam is a vital member of the Senate Committee on Education and Health, where bills dealing with abortion and reproductive choice and health are heard. Strong pro-choice leadership on this committee is one of the last obstacles in the General Assembly to stop the anti-choice agenda of Governor Bob McDonnell and his allies. That’s part of the reason anti-choice politicians are working so hard to unseat Senator Northam.

As a practicing physician, Sen. Northam brings important experience and expertise to the committee, where he has often spoken to debunk anti-choice claims and provide perspective on the medical realities of reproductive choice and health issues. He has also been a leader on ensuring that Virginia’s young people receive the effective sex education they need to prevent pregnancy and protect their health. In the 2011 session, for instance, he patroned S.B. 967, a bill to ensure that Family Life Education programs in Virginia schools are medically-accurate and evidence-based. Sen. Northam has also spoken out on the issue of so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” and the importance of making sure that these anti-choice organizations are not able to deceive Virginia women or provide them with medically-inaccurate information.

Senator Northam is being challenged by anti-choice candidate Ben Loyola, Jr. Not only will Mr. Loyola fully support the radical McDonnell-Cuccinelli agenda in Richmond (the governor not only endorsed, but promised to help campaign with Loyola), but he has shown his anti-choice positions in his own right. In fact, he sponsored a fundraiser for a deceptive anti-choice “crisis pregnancy center” that misinforms Tidewater women about abortion, birth control and reproductive health. To have an anti-choice candidate like Ben Loyola in the state Senate, particularly in place of a tireless public health advocate like Senator Northam, would be a detriment to women’s health in Virginia.

As we’ve noted before, Virginia’s state Senate is currently what we call “mixed-choice.” When votes on abortion and other reproductive rights issues come to the floor of the Senate, we do not have a reliable pro-choice majority. We saw the real consequences of this scenario earlier this year as anti-choice legislators snuck through S.B. 924, a bill singling out women’s health centers for new, politically-motivated regulations. As a champion of women’s health, Senator Northam voted against this law because he recognized these regulations for what they are – government intrusion into the private medical decisions of Virginia women that would actually put women’s health and rights in greater danger.

Senator Ralph Northam is strong pro-choice leader in Richmond who we can count on to keep working hard for women’s rights, privacy and health. Learn how you can get involved to get out the pro-choice vote by visiting our Elections page.  Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8 and remind all your pro-choice friends to do the same! Share this post and remind people of the importance of their vote for protecting the future of choice in Virginia!

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC staff. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Pro-Choice Candidate of the Day: Senator John Edwards, Senate District 21

We’re just two weeks away from one of the biggest elections for reproductive choice in Virginia in years. On Tuesday, November 8, Virginians across the state will go to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats. All this week on the blog, we are spotlighting pro-choice candidates of the day in key races across the state, so you know who will stand up for women’s health in Richmond and who we’re working to help elect this fall!

Welcome back to our pro-choice candidate of the day spotlight! Earlier today, we told you about the importance of re-electing pro-choice champion Senator Edd Houck.

Sen. John Edwards

For our second spotlighted pro-choice candidate of the day, we travel to the southwest corner of Virginia to Senate District 21. SD-21 covers the cities of Roanoke and Blacksburg and parts of Montgomery, Roanoke and Giles counties.

In this race, Senator John Edwards is the pro-choice candidate.

Senator Edwards, a Roanoke native and long-time public servant, has been a constant 100-percent pro-choice champion during his 15 years in the state Senate. Earlier this year, he stood up against politically-motivated regulations that place women’s access to abortion in jeopardy.

Senator Edwards, like Senator Houck, is a member of the vital Senate Committee on Education and Health, which frequently checks Governor McDonnell’s relentless anti-choice agenda.

Senator Edwards’ opponent is anti-choice state Delegate Dave Nutter. Delegate Nutter consistently scores zero-percent on our annual legislative scorecard.  In this year’s General Assembly session alone, Delegate Nutter voted in favor of four anti-choice bills or amendments.

While Senator Edwards was standing up for women’s rights and health during the 2011 legislative session, Delegate Nutter voted to:

  • Single out women’s health centers for politically-motivated new regulations that place women’s access to safe, legal abortion in jeopardy. (SB 924)
  • Grant constitutional rights to zygotes, effectively banning legal abortion and many FDA-approved birth control methods. (House Bill 1440)
  • Prevent a woman from using her own money in the free market to purchase private insurance that would cover abortion care. (House Bill 2147, House Bill 2434)
  • Restore money to failed abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs for Virginia youth. (House Bill 1500, amended)

Because Virginia’s state Senate is “mixed-choice,” we cannot afford to lose even one pro-choice vote this November — especially not to a staunchly anti-choice politician like Delegate Nutter. As a long-time champion of women’s health, Senator Edwards will continue to make sure the government does not intrude into the private medical decisions of Virginia women.

We know that Senator John Edwards will continue to be a strong pro-choice leader in Richmond. Learn how you can get involved to get out the pro-choice vote by visiting our Elections page.  Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8 and remind all your pro-choice friends to do the same!

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC staff. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Pro-Choice Candidate of the Day: Senator Edd Houck, Senate District 17

We’re just over two weeks away from one of the biggest elections for reproductive choice in Virginia in years. On Tuesday, November 8, Virginians across the state will go to the polls to vote on all 140 General Assembly seats. All this week on the blog, we’ll be spotlighting pro-choice candidates of the day in key races across the state, so you know who will stand up for women’s health in Richmond and who we’re working to help elect this fall!

Senator Edd Houck

Today we continue our series by heading to Senate District 17, which stretches between Fredericksburg and Charlottesville, containing the City of Fredericksburg, all of Orange County, and portions of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albermarle counties.

In this race, Senator Edd Houck is the pro-choice candidate.

Senator Houck has been in the state Senate for over 25 years and has been a constant, tireless champion for women’s health. Senator Houck is the chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Health, the committee where bills dealing with abortion and reproductive choice and health go in the state Senate. Strong pro-choice leadership on this committee is one of the last obstacles in the General Assembly to stop the anti-choice agenda of Governor Bob McDonnell and his allies. That’s part of the reason anti-choice politicians are working so hard to unseat Senator Houck.

Senator Houck is running against anti-choice candidate Bryce Reeves. Reeves has the support of some of Virginia’s most zealous anti-choice politicians (including Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli) and of the national Family Research Council Action PAC, a group founded by Focus on the Family extremist James Dobson. We can be sure Reeves would toe the line on the radical McDonnell-Cuccinelli agenda in Richmond.

Senator Houck is a strong champion for reproductive freedom, privacy, and the health of women and their families. His constituents in District 17 – as well as Virginians all across the state – need his continued leadership in the state Senate.

As we’ve noted before, Virginia’s state Senate is currently what we call “mixed-choice.” When votes on abortion and other reproductive rights issues come to the floor of the Senate, we do not have a reliable pro-choice majority. We saw the real consequences of this scenario earlier this year as anti-choice legislators snuck through S.B. 924, a bill singling out women’s health centers for new, politically-motivated regulations. As a long-time champion of women’s health, Senator Houck voted against this law because he recognized these regulations for what they are – government intrusion into the private medical decisions of Virginia women that would actually put women’s health and rights in greater danger.

Senator Edd Houck is strong pro-choice leader in Richmond. Learn how you can get involved to get out the pro-choice vote by visiting our Elections page.  Make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8 and remind all your pro-choice friends to do the same!

By NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia PAC staff. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

What Happened and What is Ahead?

By Sara Cardelle

Once a year, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia hosts a Legislative Debriefing event following the General Assembly session as an opportunity for our members and activists to meet and hear from our pro-choice legislature allies. This year, we had nearly 40 pro-choice supporters, which is our largest attendance to date. The audience had an opportunity to hear from six senators and delegates who spoke about our victories and defeats and what lies ahead for reproductive rights in the state of Virginia. (Be sure to check out photos from the event here.)

For the last four months I have been watching the General Assembly and the unfolding of the anti-reproductive rights plan to attack a woman’s right to choose in Virginia. I have watched live videos of anti-reproductive health bills on the floor and heard our allies as well as anti-choice legislator’s debate on the bills. So for me, it was an incredible opportunity to hear from six of our strong pro-choice allies as they shared their stories and views from the session. I especially found it sad but interesting that only a handful of conservative organizations have the power to scare many of our legislators into never voting in support for any reproductive rights issues, and that this hold has only gotten stronger in the last year or so. It was an amazing experience to be in a room full of passionate and excited people who care so strongly about reproductive rights. I left the event feeling unbelievably empowered by all of the attendees and legislatures.

This year’s speakers included:

  • Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington, Senate Democratic Caucus Chair
  • Senator George Barker, D-Fairfax
  • Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, Reproductive Rights Caucus Chair
  • Delegate Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria
  • Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax
  • Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, Progressive Caucus Chair

Each speaker had a different topic, so I want to hit the highlights for me of their presentations.

Delegate Ebbin talked about how important the 2011 elections are going to be in protecting and defending reproductive rights in Virginia over the next several years. He also spoke about the current redistricting battle going on in the House of Delegates and state Senate, which, come election time, could lead to an increase in the number of legislators opposed to comprehensive health care for Virginia women.

Delegate Watts talked about Senate Bill 924, which calls for the Board of Health to regulate facilities providing five or more first-trimester abortions per month as a category of hospital. She noted new regulations could not just affect abortion providers, but also OB/GYN offices. Describing recent attacks against women’s health care, she stated that this is the “worst year that I have seen [regarding] abortion legislation.“

Delegate Hope talked about a bill he patroned this year, HB 1488, which prohibits a correctional facility from using restraints (shackles) on any prisoner who is pregnant and in labor. The exception would exclude women who are a flight risk or pose serious harm to herself or others. This bill was tabled in the Military, Police and Public Safety Committee.  Even though the bill was defeated this year, Delegate Hope stated the discussion led to a meeting he and other members will have with the Director of the Department of Corrections to get further guidance and create better regulations.

Delegate Herring spoke of one of the bills she patroned, which was HB 2436. The bill stated that any qualified health benefits plan offered through an exchange shall be neither required to provide nor prohibited from providing insurance coverage for abortion services. This bill was a proactive bill to prevent anticipated bans on private insurance coverage for abortion services. Unfortunately, her bill was tabled in committee. Sadly, we did see a ban on private insurance coverage of abortion care, in the form of Governor McDonnell’s amendment to House Bill 2434, which would have simply created the state’s insurance exchange.

Senator Whipple discussed the TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) bill and the importance of the Senate Committee on Education and Health in defeating anti-choice legislation. She stated that many negative bills pass the House, but are defeated by women’s health allies in the Senate Committee on Education and Health. Several years ago, legislators wrote into the rules of the Senate that any bills related to abortion would automatically have to go to this Committee, which has been able to defeat a multitude of anti-reproductive-rights bills (even when the Committee had a Republican* majority).

Senator Barker talked about one of the positives coming out of this year’s 2011 General Assembly, which was Senate Bill 967. This bill would have added Family Life Education to the standards of learning guidelines and required all FLE programs be medically-accurate and science-based. The bill passed the full Senate and was defeated by a tie vote in House sub-committee (which is great progress). Senator Barker noted FLE has helped reduce teen pregnancy by a large percent. He also explained how some more moderate representatives used to vote for reproductive rights in the past but are now under extraordinary pressure from conservative organizations to vote no on any reproductive right bills. The fear is that any conservative legislator who votes even once for reproductive rights will automatically have a primary challenger who will most likely beat them in the primaries. Senator Barker said that “if we were able to have secret votes on the floor of the Senate on these types of bills, then we would have 25 to 30 votes on every one of these bills, to kill these bad bills.”

I, like many of the attendees, left this year’s Legislative Debriefing feeling passionate and angry over the current erosion of reproductive rights. This is an important time for people to get angry and to fight back, as reproductive rights are under attack all across the country right now. (In fact, 916 bills dealing with reproductive rights have been proposed across the country this year alone.) Anti-choice groups are no longer looking to outright overturn Roe v. Wade because they know that they can whittle down reproductive rights through the states, one bill at a time. This is why it is so important for Virginians to volunteer for pro-choice candidates in the summer and fall and to come out and vote for pro-choice candidates in this year’s statewide election.

As a helpful guide to know how your legislator ranks, we had a first glimpse of our 2011 scorecard during the debriefing. The scorecard allows you to see how your elected official stacks up on choice. Check back soon to see the full scorecard online.

*Supporting access to comprehensive reproductive health care options is not a partisan issue.

The Panel Presents the Status of Choice

Pro-Choice Allies Speak to the Group