Reproductive Freedom: What to Watch for this Legislative Session

By Miriam Stiefel, ACLU of Virginia Reproductive Freedom Project Intern

reprofreedom_justice scalesWhat role did concerns over access to abortion have in our recent election? That’s a question generating a lot of discussion around the Commonwealth. We think the answer is clear – politicians who place themselves between a woman and her doctor are out of touch. Our legislators would be wise to notice.

Unfortunately, some legislators still haven’t gotten the message.  Legislation restricting access to abortion will likely to reemerge during our 2014 legislative session, including:

•    Expand Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. We expect legislation that will require abortion providers to have admitting privileges or other unnecessary and burdensome connections to hospitals in their area.  Existing TRAP laws already place burdensome and medically unnecessary physical plant requirements on clinics, in an attempt to shut them down.  While marketed as a patient safety law, this admitting privileges requirement would further undermine a woman’s right to make decisions about her reproductive health care by granting hospitals veto power over whether an abortion provider can exist.

•    Restrict medication abortion (RU-486). We expect legislation that would limit the use of medication abortion to its narrow FDA guidelines. Since receiving original FDA approval, research has shown that medication abortion is effective at a lower dosage and can be used later in pregnancy than is stated in the drug’s FDA guidelines. This sort of evolution in the use of prescription drugs is very common. In fact, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found a law that banned the use of off-label medications for abortion unconstitutional. Nevertheless, we expect that Virginia legislators will try to pass a version of it here, clearly placing their desire to restrict women’s access to abortion over their desire to protect women’s health.

•    Grant personhood status to fertilized eggs. We expect legislation that would require all the laws of the Commonwealth to be interpreted to grant fertilized eggs the same rights, privileges, and immunities as people. This bill is a “trigger ban,” laying the legal foundation to outlaw abortions and some FDA approved methods of birth control in Virginia in the event that the Supreme Court precedent protecting the right to abortion nationwide is overturned. Similar extreme measures were pursued in Mississippi, South Carolina, Colorado, and Washington – all were overwhelming rejected by voters.

•    Restrict funding for abortion services. We expect legislation that would repeal current Virginia law that allows for public funding of some abortions for Medicaid eligible women in the Commonwealth. A woman should not be denied health care based upon her ability to pay and should be able to make her own health care decisions with her medical providers.

•    Ban abortion after 20 weeks. We expect legislation that would ban abortions at 20 weeks, with unconstitutionally narrow exceptions for a woman’s life and health and with no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal anomaly. Abortion bans at 20 weeks are a national trend aimed at challenging Roe v. Wade. This bill would prohibit abortions when the Supreme Court has held that states may not do so.  Similar extreme measures were pursued on a local level in Albuquerque, New Mexico and on a state level elsewhere– all were overwhelming rejected by voters and are opposed by the majority of Americans in general.

The ACLU of Virginia opposes bills like these because they jeopardize a woman’s health and undermine her ability to exercise constitutionally protected reproductive rights. These proposals are also unpopular with voters. Yet, because of a coordinated nation-wide strategy to restrict abortion, we must prepare for them anyway.

In fact, three bills (HB 18, HB 19, and HB 20) aimed at restricting access to contraception have already been introduced this legislative session.  Due to federal rules under the Affordable Care Act mandating no co-pay birth control, these bills will not have any impact.  However, if the federal mandate is overturned, and these bills pass, Virginia will be poised to restrict contraceptive coverage and other reproductive health services. They would do so by limiting health insurance coverage and allowing employers to decide your health care plan.  These bills discriminate against women and limit women’s access to basic health services.

Stopping bills like these is necessary, not only because the majority of Americans support abortion rights, and virtually every women will use some form of birth control at some point in her life, but because the decision whether or not to have an abortion or use contraception is a personal decision that should be left to a woman and her family, not her boss or a politician.

Want to stay informed about reproductive freedom?  Continue to follow our blog, and check out our Facebook page and Twitter for breaking news!  And, sign up to be a grassroots lobbyist – with your help, we will again defeat this legislation!