Bills Repealing Virginia Anti-Choice Laws Pass Senate Committee

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Bills Repealing Virginia Anti-Choice Laws Pass Senate Committee

Emily Crockett

The reorganization of the Virginia senate's education and health committee under Democratic control has given a boost to pro-choice legislation. Bills repealing mandatory ultrasound and insurance coverage restrictions will now move to the full senate.

The Virginia senate’s education and health committee voted Thursday to pass bills that would repeal two recent anti-choice laws, one from 2012 that requires an ultrasound before an abortion, and one from last year that prohibits insurance coverage of abortion through the federal exchanges.

“It is nobody’s damn business who gets an abortion except for the woman seeking it and the doctor she asks to care for her,” said state Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield) in the hearing.

SB 617, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), would roll back the mandatory ultrasound law, while SB 618 and SB 646, sponsored by Sens. Locke and Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), would repeal the insurance prohibition.

The repeal bills are part of a broad “Healthy Women, Healthy Families” agenda that the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition is advancing this year. That agenda also includes expanding Medicaid and restoring lost funding to programs that provide health care and family planning services to low-income and pregnant women.

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Republicans have threatened to block Medicaid expansion, but since Democrats retook the state senate a week ago, the chances of passing both Medicaid expansion and other pro-choice measures have significantly improved. One of the Democrats’ first actions was to reorganize the health and education committee, which hears most choice-related bills, so that it now has a pro-choice majority. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia hailed the move as a huge victory for women’s health.

Before the insurance ban passed last year, more than 80 percent of private insurance companies covered abortion. The mandatory ultrasound law was watered down after national outrage erupted over the provision forcing women in early stages of pregnancy to receive transvaginal ultrasounds, which some called “state-sanctioned rape.” Mandatory ultrasounds are still costly, burdensome, and medically unnecessary. The backlash against this and other anti-choice measures has been credited in part for Ken Cuccinelli’s loss to Terry McAuliffe in the governor’s race in November.

“We are absolutely thrilled to see these critical women’s health bills advance to the full Senate,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, in a statement. “It is fundamentally wrong for politicians to block health care access for women and families who need it in an effort to make personal decisions for them—be it through a mandatory ultrasound law designed to shame women and put up barriers to access, or through banning insurance coverage for safe, legal abortion.”