After campaigning on abortion rights in order to win back control of the House of Delegates in November, Virginia Democrats have used the first half of this year’s legislative session to reject anti-abortion legislation.
In a bipartisan 8-0 vote on Wednesday, a subcommittee rejected House Bill 1364 from Republican Del. Timothy Griffin, which would have banned abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother.
In another Wednesday vote, this one along party lines, the same panel rejected House Bill 1184 from Republican Del. Phillip Scott, which would have prohibited abortions that were sought on the basis of the sex or race of the fetus.
Anti-abortion groups such as the Virginia Society For Human Life and the Family Foundation expressed support for Scott’s bill, while reproductive rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia and REPRO Rising Virginia expressed opposition, arguing that the bills were meant to stigmatize abortion care. Both of the pro-choice groups have repeatedly asserted that they are against any legislation that restricts access to sexual and reproductive health care.
Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said last year that abortion restrictions are “incorrect in that they take away the power of the people to make decisions about their own bodies, lives, and futures.”
Morgan Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the House Democratic caucus, said Wednesday’s votes proved that Democrats are keeping their promises to voters.
“For months, House Democrats told Virginians that a Democratic majority would protect their rights and freedoms and this subcommittee did just that tonight,” Hopkins said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “We believe the choice to seek reproductive health care — and it is health care — should always be a decision between a woman and her doctor, not politicians.”
On Thursday, House Democrats also announced a rare procedural move to put another abortion-related bill to a floor vote next week, in an effort to force every House member to go on record on the issue. The measure, also introduced by Griffin, would further restrict the already limited circumstances in which public funding can be used to provide abortion services. It would also prohibit state funding from going to any entity or facility where abortion care is provided.
Lockhart said that the measure would have a “tremendously” negative impact on organizations such as hers, which in addition to providing abortion care and contraception, provides services including sexually transmitted disease testing, prenatal and postpartum care, vaccine administration, mental health care, and more.
Democratic House Speaker Don Scott, who voted to bring the measure to the floor next week, said “voters have shown time and time again where they stand on this vital issue and it is only right that their representatives do the same.”
In Virginia, abortion is currently legal until fetal viability, which is usually around 23-24 weeks.
In addition to rejecting anti-choice legislation, Virginia Democrats have also passed measures that would strengthen women’s rights to make their own family planning decisions.
On Friday morning, the Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill 819, also known as the Contraceptive Equity Act, in a bipartisan vote of 65-31. The legislation, introduced by Democratic Del. Candi King, will address critical issues surrounding contraceptive accessibility by eliminating certain copays, cost-sharing requirements, reimbursement requirements, and coverage delays.
Tarina Keane, executive director of REPRO Rising Virginia, said in a statement that the legislation “recognizes the diverse health requirements of individuals and ensures that affordable contraceptive options remain within reach for all Virginians.”
“Accessible contraception is not just a matter of reproductive autonomy; it is a fundamental aspect of health care that addresses a spectrum of needs, from preventing unintended pregnancies to managing various health conditions,” she added.
The Senate companion bill passed on Tuesday in a 24-15 vote.
Virginia Democrats are also advancing House Bill 78 from Democratic Del. Vivian Watts. The bill would prevent the issuance of search warrants for electronic or digital menstrual health data. Similar legislation passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote last year, but was opposed by the Youngkin administration and died in the then Republican-controlled House of Delegates.
Democrats have also vowed to fight for an amendment enshrining abortion rights under the state constitution, but the measure has been postponed until next year.
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