With the General Assembly elections this November, we’re looking at how candidates in competitive races stand on the issues that matter. For first-time candidates who have not had an opportunity to vote on these issues, we’ll assess their position based on their current policy platform, party affiliation
Today, we’re focusing on women’s equality. In recent years, the discussion around women’s equality in Virginia has focused on the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, and paid family leave.
The Equal Rights Amendment is a U.S. constitutional amendment that would guarantee women equal legal protections and would affect a host of other issues from violence against women to the gender wage gap. In 2019, the Virginia legislature had the chance to become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment. Despite receiving bipartisan support in the Virginia Senate, the ERA died in the House of Delegates, with Republicans defeating Democrat attempts to bring a full floor vote on the amendment.
On the topic of abortion, Virginians generally support a woman’s right to choose. A February 2019 poll from Public Policy Polling found that 72% of Virginia voters support legal access to abortion. Despite this support, the Republican-led General Assembly has gradually chipped away at Virginians’ access to abortion over the past decade by voting to defund Planned Parenthood and institute stringent restrictions on both abortion providers and patients.
Paid leave is another issue that has seen little progress in Virginia. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 60% of women in Virginia are part of the labor force, compared to 72% of men. The National Partnership for Women and Families attributes this disparity in part to lack of paid leave policies. In 2018, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order offering eight weeks of paid family leave to 99,000 state employees, giving advocates hope there was finally sufficient momentum to pass legislation granting paid leave to all Virginians. But earlier this year the General Assembly shelved bills introduced from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) that would have required Virginia to offer 12 weeks paid leave to new parents.
Senate District 8 (Virginia Beach City)
Missy Cotter Smasal (D): Cotter Smasal passed a resolution in support of the ERA while on the Virginia Beach City Council. She is pro-choice, and supports access to abortion and contraception. Cotter Smasal also supports Virginia adopting paid sick leave for all full time employees and says not having access to sick days is “is unhealthy for workers, families, and businesses.”
William DeSteph Jr. (R): Senator DeSteph opposes a woman’s right to choose. He has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Unlike most of his party, DeSteph voted in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Senate District 13 (Parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties)
John Bell (D): Senator Bell supports the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment, and he voted for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment while serving in the House in 2018. He is pro-choice and has voted to protect access to affordable birth control and access to abortion.
Geary Higgins (R): Higgins staunchly opposes a woman’s right to choose, saying he is “100% committed to protecting the life of the unborn.” While serving as Catoctin District County Supervisor, he voted not to include Equal Rights Amendment ratification in its state legislative agenda last year.
House District 85 (Virginia Beach City)
Rocky Holcomb (R): Holcomb opposes a woman’s right to choose. While he doesn’t have an extensive voting record as due to only previously serving a partial term, he did vote to defund Planned Parenthood and co-sponsored a resolution designating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as the “Day of Tears.”
House District 28 (Parts of Stafford County and Fredericksburg City)
Joshua Cole (D): Cole is pro-choice and has said, “I will work to block any attempt to criminalize abortion, silence victims of assault, and restrict access to contraceptives in Virginia.” He also supports the Equal Rights Amendment and supports paid family leave.
Paul Milde (R): Milde strongly opposes a woman’s right to choose. In an interview with Potomac Local he said that he supports defunding Planned Parenthood. He is also against the Equal Rights Amendment and attacked fellow Republican Del. Bob Thomas for supporting its passage.
House District 66 (Parts of Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights City and Richmond City)
Sheila Bynum-Coleman (D): Bynum-Coleman is pro-choice. She said that “bills affecting a woman’s right to choose will be on the ballot next year, and we must protect a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions.” Bynum-Coleman also supports passing the Equal Rights Amendment. When asked about the legislation in an interview with The Dogwood, Bynum-Coleman said: “Equal means equal.”
Kirk Cox (R): Speaker Cox is one of the House’s most staunch opponents of women’s reproductive freedom. He voted multiple times to defund Planned Parenthood and has voted to impose more restrictions on women seeking abortions, including transvaginal ultrasounds. After the Equal Rights Amendment resolution died in a House subcommittee, advocates pushed for Speaker Cox to bring the legislation to a vote, but he refused.
House District 76 (Parts of Suffolk City and Chesapeake City)
Clint Jenkins (D): Jenkins is pro-choice. He says one of his priorities is to “protect a woman’s constitutionally-protected right to make her own healthcare decisions, and roll back existing barriers to access.” He also supports the Equal Rights Amendment and vowed to “fight for equal pay for equal work legislation.”
Chris Jones (R): Delegate Jones opposes a woman’s right to choose. He has voted both to defund planned parenthood and impose more restrictions on women seeking abortions, including transvaginal ultrasounds. Jones also voted against allowing for a full vote on the Equal Rights Amendment.
House District 83 (Parts of Virginia Beach City and Norfolk City)
Nancy Guy (D): Guy is pro-choice. She has said “it is not the role of government to dictate that a woman must become a mother.” Guy has condemned Republicans for blocking the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Chris Stolle (R): Stolle is firmly against abortion access. He has voted to restrict women’s access to abortion services and has voted several times against allowing state funds to go to Planned Parenthood. Stolle is against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and has repeatedly voted against efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Stolle garnered attention this year when he stopped the ERA from getting a floor vote–even though he was initially a co-sponsor of the bill.
House District 94 (Newport News City)
Shelly Simonds (D): Simonds is pro-choice. She has said that she “will always fight for women’s reproductive health.” Simonds also supports passing the ERA and increasing options for affordable childcare.
David Yancey (R): Delegate Yancey opposes a woman’s right to choose and stated on his previous website that “life begins at conception” and that he will “will work tirelessly to protect it.” Yancey, unlike many in his party, supported the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.