As Black Women Leaders, We Are Tearing Down Abortion Restrictions in Virginia

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Commentary Abortion

As Black Women Leaders, We Are Tearing Down Abortion Restrictions in Virginia

Jennifer McClellan & Charniele Herring

Virginia is turning the page on years of abortion restrictions that have put care out of reach for many.

When Rachel Scruggs, a waitress and young mother in Manassas, Virginia, decided to have an abortion in 2018, she was forced to make a second appointment and wait 24 hours before coming back to the clinic for a medication abortion.

This delay was medically unnecessary, and it imposed a huge burden on Rachel and her family, forcing her to find transportation, lose wages, and arrange and pay for child care for her five-year-old son. We don’t want to hear these stories anymore in Virginia. Women deserve health care rooted in their best interest and in sound medical advice.

For most of the past two decades, anti-choice legislators controlled the Virginia House of Delegates and state senate, using their majority to introduce over 150 medically unnecessary laws designed to restrict access to safe, legal abortion care. These laws had nothing to do with protecting health and safety and everything to do with shaming patients and preventing families from accessing the reproductive health care they need. These demeaning laws have impacted the most marginalized in Virginia, and have disproportionately affected young people, rural residents, individuals with low incomes, and people of color.

For these Virginians, the right to abortion has existed in name only.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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As legislators, women of color, and Virginians, we have fiercely fought these anti-choice laws in the Virginia General Assembly. Now, Virginia is turning the page.

Last month, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the Reproductive Health Protection Act (RHPA), a common-sense law that rolls back dangerous, politically motivated abortion restrictions that block access to one of the safest and most common medical procedures. We were proud to sponsor this law, which goes into effect July 1.

The evidence is clear: The vast majority of Virginians trust people to make their own reproductive health-care decisions, free from political interference. We agree. These decisions are private and need to remain between a patient, a medical professional, and those they love and trust.

There is no question that reversing decades of restrictions and policies rooted in politics and ideology rather than best medical practices will pave the way for all Virginians to have the ability to make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and their health.

We also know that the RHPA will remove barriers to care that have had an outsized impact on those with the fewest resources, perpetuating the structural economic inequalities that already exist in our society and unfairly harming the most vulnerable members of our communities.

When someone decides to have an abortion, it should be safe, affordable, and free from punishment or judgment. The RHPA rolls back restrictions that make exercising the constitutional right to abortion care nearly impossible for many. Restrictions like the mandatory 24-hour waiting period require patients to take time off work and lose vital income, find affordable childcare, and pay for transportation and lodging.

This can create additional barriers for those who have to travel to obtain abortion care. Around 92 percent of Virginia counties have no abortion care provider. By overturning the mandatory waiting periods and forced ultrasound law, women will be able to access abortion care when they need it and without medically unnecessary delays that disproportionately prevent lower-income women from exercising their rights and getting the health care they need.

Punishing people for deciding when and if to become parents and exercising their fundamental rights is shameful. It’s not who we are as Virginians.

The RHPA also rolls back targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws that are solely intended to shut down abortion clinics across the country and in Virginia. Before these laws went into effect, Virginia had 21 health centers that provided abortion services. After the TRAP laws’ implementation, this number was reduced to 15 centers that provide medication and procedural abortion care in a state with nearly 1.7 million women of reproductive age.

These laws require only abortion clinics, and not other similar medical facilities, to meet criteria like having a certain number of parking spaces or hallways of a given width—measures that have nothing to do with patient health and safety. When a facility cannot meet these requirements, which are completely irrelevant to patient care, the laws make these clinics shut down for no reason at all.

Data tells us Black women have the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths in this country. Racial bias within the health-care system is a major factor, but it is clear that shutting down clinics that are the only place many women have to access care will only make this crisis worse. As leaders, we should be expanding access to health care, not restricting it.

Right now, across the country, all eyes are on the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation is waiting to see how this Court, with the addition of President Trump’s two anti-abortion justices, will determine a case that will set new legal precedent for how far access to safe and legal abortion can be curtailed under the law for generations to come.

The consequences of these decisions, and of our national laws around reproductive health care, cannot be understated. But here in Virginia, while these cases are being decided and lives hang in the balance, we will continue fighting to do what the people of Virginia elected us to do—take reproductive health decisions out of the hands of politicians and put them back where they belong, with patients and medical professionals. That is what the RHPA is about.

Thanks to the countless people who worked to make the RHPA a reality, we are proud to say that for those across the Commonwealth who have suffered because of these anti-choice laws, the right to safe and legal abortion will no longer exist in name only here in Virginia.