VA Dems advance bills to strengthen reproductive rights, block anti-abortion bills

Democratic House Speaker Don Scott (seen here) voted to bring House Bill 404, which would have further restricted the already limited circumstances in which public funding can be used to provide abortion services, to a floor vote on Feb. 8. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Isabel Soisson

February 16, 2024

Tuesday was “crossover day” in the Virginia General Assembly–the day in the legislative session bills must pass their respective chambers in order to be considered in the other chamber.

If a bill doesn’t pass either the House of Delegates or the state Senate by then, it can no longer become law this year. 

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 and push for further safeguards to  reproductive rights in the commonwealth, where abortion is currently legal until fetal viability, which is usually around 23-24 weeks.

“In a post-Roe world, where our federal right to abortion has been stripped away, it is more crucial than ever to safeguard abortion access and bodily autonomy, and to protect our indefatigable providers,” Tarina Keene, executive director of REPRO Rising Virginia said in a statement. “Each person deserves the ability to navigate their unique healthcare journey with dignity, respect, and the full protection of their rights. 

Here’s where abortion legislation stands in Virginia: 

Protect Virginia’s Health Workers Board of Medicine (Senate Bill 716 & House Bill 519)

Introduced by Democratic Senator Jennifer Caroll Foy and Democratic Delegate Candi Mundon King, Senate Bill (SB) 716 and House Bill (HB) 519 would prohibit the Virginia Board of Medicine from taking disciplinary action against medical professionals who provide legal abortion care to out-of-state patients.

Both bills passed in their respective chambers. Now, at least one of the bills must pass out of the other chamber before going to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for consideration.

Contraceptive Equity Act (Senate Bill 238 & House Bill 819)

On Feb. 9, the Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill 819, also known as the Contraceptive Equity Act, in a bipartisan vote of 65-31.

Another bill introduced by Del. Candi King, HB 819 would address critical issues surrounding contraceptive accessibility by eliminating certain copays, cost-sharing requirements, reimbursement requirements, and coverage delays.

The Senate companion bill passed on Feb. 6 in a 24-15 vote. Now, at least one of the bills must pass out of the other chamber before going to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for consideration.

Menstrual Data Privacy (Senate Bill 16, House Bill 78)

Companion bills, SB 16 and HB 78 would prohibit search warrants or subpoenas from being issued for menstrual data that’s stored on third-party apps and other digital services. 

The bills were introduced by Democratic lawmakers Sen. Barbara Favola and Del. Vivian Watts respectively.

Both bills passed in their chambers, and now, at least one of the bills must pass out of the other chamber before going to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for consideration.

Extradition Prohibition, Reproductive Health Services (Senate Bill 15 & House Bill 1539)

House Bill 1539, introduced by Democratic Del. Marcus B. Simon, would establish legal protections for patients who travel to Virginia to receive abortion care from states where that care is not legal. Under HB 1539, patients could not be extradited and criminalized by another state where reproductive health services are banned. 

This bill must now pass in the Virginia Senate before going to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for consideration.

Senate Bill 15, meanwhile, would prohibit Virginia from extraditing commonwealth residents charged by other states with violating their abortion laws. This bill also passed in the Senate, and now must pass in the House of Delegates. 

Use of Public Funds in Abortion Care (House Bill 404)

This week, Virginia Democrats also rejected House Bill 404, introduced by Republican Del. Timothy Griffin. 

The bill would have further restricted the already limited circumstances in which public funding can be used to provide abortion services. It would have also prohibited state funding from going to any hospital or facility where abortion care is provided. 

The bill also lacked exemptions for cases of rape, incest, severe fetal abnormalities, or when the mother’s life is at risk. 

Last week in a rare procedural move, House Democrats called for HB 404 to be put to a floor vote in an effort to force every House member to go on record on the issue. Every Republican but one voted against the bill, including Griffin himself. 

Other Bills

In a bipartisan 8-0 vote on Feb. 7, a subcommittee rejected House Bill 1364, another bill from Republican Del. Griffin, which would have banned abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. 

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 legislation was meant to stigmatize abortion care. Both 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.”

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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