Earlier this year, a narrow abortion rights majority in the Virginia state Senate blocked the passage of all proposed abortion bans and restrictions. It was an amazing victory that took the fierce advocacy of those who lobbied against the bills and was reinforced when Senator Aaron Rouse won a special election that cemented a pro-reproductive rights majority. But we could easily see that progress rolled back if we do not elect pro-reproductive rights champions on November 7th.
This November, all 140 state legislative seats are on the ballot in Virginia. With an anti-abortion majority in the House of Delegates, a slim pro-abortion rights majority in the state Senate, and a governor who’s said he would “happily” sign any anti-abortion legislation that crosses his desk, we can’t afford any losses. If anti-abortion politicians win a trifecta, they have assured us they will attack abortion access in Virginia. And we can’t trust that they would stop at passing a harmful 15-week abortion ban. We’ve seen how other states started with a 15-week abortion ban and then continued to chip away at abortion access. As of today, 21 states have banned abortion at some or all stages of pregnancy, leaving millions of people to navigate an intricate and delicate web of obstacles impeding their care. Abortion bans criminalize our ability to control our own bodies.
Virginia is the last defense against abortion attacks in the South, and that’s why the eyes of the nation are on this election. Nearly all of the southern states between Virginia and New Mexico now have abortion bans on the books, including nearly all of Virginia’s immediate neighbors. West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky have complete abortion bans in effect, with few exceptions. Georgia and South Carolina have unconscionable six-week abortion bans in effect. North Carolina recently had a 12-week abortion ban take effect with a 72-hour waiting period that makes it difficult for many people to access an abortion. Florida has a 15-week ban in effect and passed a 6-week ban that is currently before their Supreme Court. The ultimate goal of anti-abortion extremists pushing harmful pieces of legislation in states across the country is to ban abortion, and they won’t stop until they have achieved it. We simply can’t take anything for granted. We need to reach every voter and explain the stakes.
Protecting abortion access in Virginia is absolutely critical for Virginians and those who come here to receive care. From the South through the Midwest, these bans are hurting patients, providers, and their communities. This is especially true for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color who disproportionately feel the effects of abortion bans and restrictions as a result of this country’s legacy of racism and discrimination. When you add the possibility of having low-incomes, lacking access to reliable transportation and being under or uninsured, the challenges compound, making abortion difficult and often impossible to access. Many patients are forced to travel to less restrictive states at great financial and emotional cost to themselves and their families.
Furthermore, providers are being denied the ability to offer the very health care they have trained to provide, under threat of losing their licenses or jail time. Rather than practice in states where health care is criminalized, many providers are leaving, labor and delivery units are closing, and maternal health deserts are increasing. Medical students seeking the advanced abortion training they need to meet all of their patient’s unique needs must choose between leaving abortion restricted states where they currently reside to receive evidence-based training in states without abortion bans, or being unable to meet the full needs of their patient population.
Abortion bans make it both harder to get an abortion AND make pregnancy less safe. Patients are being denied miscarriage care, forced to carry non-viable pregnancies, or told they can’t be treated until they get sicker. Many are forced to remain pregnant against their will or flee their homes to access essential health care. How close to death does someone have to be in order to get the care they need and who gets to decide?
Every person should have the freedom to decide if and when they have children. Virginians overwhelmingly agree that abortion is a deeply personal decision that should remain between a patient and their health care provider – not a decision for politicians to interfere in. As the last state in the South where abortion remains without a post-Dobbs decision ban, Virginia is truly holding the line. We need to keep it that way.
Jamie Lockhart is the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, a statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to preserve and broaden access to reproductive health care through legislation, public education, electoral activity and litigation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
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