When Felicia Pricenor leaned into the mic at an anti-abortion rally in Virginia this week, the associate director of the Virginia Catholic Conference said she spoke on behalf of the “voiceless, the unborn Virginians.”
Thousands of eyes squinted back in her direction, fixated on her or the Capitol building behind her. “All 140 members of the house and Senate are here today,” she said enthusiastically, and “we need to make sure they have heard us.”
And then they marched — right past Rachel, a young woman sitting in the shade at the bottom of the hill, who took a two-hour bus ride from Fairfax to speak for the voices of the living.
“We were here to have our voices heard” too, she said in an interview.
About one year ago, Rachel found out she was pregnant. Two days later, her boyfriend relapsed on heroin. She had to make a difficult decision that was “very, very important” not just to her future, but to the wellbeing of her then six-year-old child, who has low-functioning autism.
“I knew that carrying the pregnancy to term was not at all a viable option for me,” she said. “It was the best choice for me, my son, my family, my financial situation, just everything about it.”
Rachel said she was fortunate that she had the money to pay for the abortion and access to transportation to get to the clinic, because “not everyone else does.” Over 90 percentof Virginia counties have no clinics that provide abortion services; 78 percent of Virginia women live in those counties.
“Those are the types of things we need to work on,” Rachel said, “when a woman has an unintended pregnancy.”
“Her family is giving her crap about it, legislators are trying to put obstacles in her way that prevent her from having autonomy over her body … There are so many personal, emotional aspects of getting an abortion to begin with that to actually create legislation that makes it harder on someone is insanely inappropriate.”
Rachel came to Richmond on the same day as the March for Life rally to share her story.
She and a group of about 50 pro-choice advocates, including doctors who have administered abortions and patients who have received them, arrived at the Capitol not to counter-protest, but to remind lawmakers voting on abortion-related budget amendments that Virginia is a pro-choice state.
“We are the 72 percent majority that believe that access to abortion is very important and it should be accessible and free from political interference,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, which advocates for increased access to reproductive health care.
Keene was referencing a February survey that showed 72 percent of Virginia voters think abortion should be legal. She said the results make clear the “very strong message that voters actually want to send to the General Assembly this year.” All 140 members of the General Assembly are up for reelection in 2019.
“We could be making history by flipping both the House and the Senate,” which would give Democrats control of both the legislative and executive branches of government. That would bring “a lot of opportunities to make a lot of change when it comes to protecting and expanding reproductive freedom and that includes abortion rights.”
For years, Virginia Republicans have chipped away at women’s constitutional right to choose.
That trend continued during Wednesday’s reconvened session, when Republicans rejected two gubernatorial amendments overriding Republicans’ efforts to limit access to abortion-related services through the state budget.
One measure, the brainchild of Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), hobblesa new program that provides access to long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) for low-income women. Dunnavant’s amendment limits the types of contraceptive devices that can be purchased through the program from many to just one — IUDs.
NARAL says the move will also hamper the ability of hospitals and clinics to provide LARCs to women free of charge.
Keene said Reublican efforts to hamper a program proven to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions revealed Republicans’ true intentions: “Ban abortion and shame and criminalize women.”
Republicans also rewrote existing law to nix the state’s ability to use Medicaid to pay for certain abortions in cases of “gross and incapacitating fetal anomalies,” rape and incest.
Expect further restrictions on reproductive healthcare in 2019 if Republicans maintain control of the General Assembly.
“I think people do not take voting as seriously as they should. I think that a lot of people think that their vote doesn’t matter or that they’re just one person in a sea of many,” Rachel said. “But enough people coming together and having that attitude is the reason why things don’t get done and why people get elected that shouldn’t be in office.”