Yesterday, a House of Delegates committee endorsed House Bill 1428 to toughen regulations on abortion clinics. Representatives from Planned Parenthood said 17 out of 21 abortion providers will close if this bill is approved by the General Assembly but it still has to survive the House and move on to the Democrat-held Senate.
Pro-life activists held a rally last Thursday in hopes of pushing Virginia leaders to pass this restriction and others like it.
The emcee Reverend Dean Nelson of the Fredrick Douglas Foundation, a public policy and educational organization, and the Virginia Christian Alliance asked rally participants to call on God and to call on governmental leaders.
"To do what they are called to do under God particularly for the unborn, can I get an amen?" Dead said. "Listen, the first role of the government is to protect those who are among us, the citizens, and we need to have protection particularly for those who are most vulnerable in our society."
Republican delegate Bob Marshall of Virginia's 13th District opened and closed the event. He has been active in pushing for legislation like House Bill 1428 for 16 years but this year he wrote a different bill. This one, House Bill 1440, would redefined unborn children as persons under Virginia law.
Marshall did not shy away from saying he hopes to chip away at Roe v. Wade by redefining personhood and restricting abortion. He and others at the rally likened themselves to leaders in the Civil Rights movement. Marshall called on the crowd to stay strong in the fight toward making abortion illegal.
"There were more injustices than sitting on a bus but they started there and they held firm and they didn't budge and they eventually won and turned the conscience of this country around," Marshall said. "We have to hold firm today and assert that there is a person in the womb, that there can be a wrongful death suit taken and this is the march back because if we affirm this principle in one area before birth we can like those that sat in Birmingham on the buses, we can affirm it elsewhere and we will do that. "
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was scheduled to speak at the rally but later cancelled. He backpedaled after issuing an advisory opinion where he said Governor McDonnell could side step the legislative process and simply enact more regulations on abortion providers. McDonnell has said the proposed regulations need to go through the normal legislative process.
"The laws on the books allow us to do this and the attorney general said yes it does," Marshall said. "And when you look at the statutes of Virginia the commisioner is charged with ensuring patient safety he also is in charge of issuing regulations when the board is not in session. Bob McDonnell could tell him today to issue these regulations, Bob McDonnell has not done that."
Marshall said the General Assembly is a dead end. He said regulations not passing has more to do with the Senate's Education and Health committee, where all abortion bills are heard, than support. He said the committee has been stocked with pro-choicers.
"There's no other way to explain this. They have done it for years and the Democrats have followed suit. They want to bury these issues," Marshall said. "No they are manipulating the public process, not the right to lifers."
Marshall said opponents of his in the pro-choice movement like Planned Parenthood won't listen to what outside parties like the Board of Architects have advised.
"Regulations you say are for the benefit of the women, they don't want to do it," Marshall said.
When asked how he will proceed if key abortion bills don't pass the General Assembly this year, he said he plans to wear down his opponents. And there are many in the pro-choice camp, like manager of grassroots organizing at Planned Parenthood Courtney Jones.
Planned Parenthood attended the rally to hear what the opposition was saying and record their words to hold them accountable. She said many speakers misinformed the public with their messages that day saying abortion providers don't stock certain life saving devices or have employees trained in CPR. Jones argued there are already health regulations in place at clinics.
"It's thinly veiled ideology is what they're getting at," Jones said. "They don't want the procedure to be safer for women. It has nothing to do with patient safety it has to do with putting providers out of business and restricting access for women."
Jones said the regulations proposed often include structural changes like hallway size or zoning, staffing and parking changes. She said these are massive upgrades they can't afford without passing on higher costs to patients and many clinics would simply have to close.
"It's an effort to chip away at Roe, I mean, what's the point of something being legal if you don't have access to it is how I think of it," Jones said. "So if there is one provider in all of Virginia and you are a lower income woman in Bathe County, can you afford to take time off work to travel to Richmond?"
The Planned Parenthood Jones said she worries what may happen to smaller, independent clinics if regulations are imposed and but she said:
"If precedent holds true, it won't pass this year and kind of the more anti-extremists like the governor and attorney general will use the legislative body for what it's there for."
As far as Marshall's bill is concerned, Jones said it could affect the kind of birth control Planned Parenthood could give out because some prohibit implantation. Depending on the definition of when life begins, a highly contested issue that bill asserts is at conception, these could become illegal but she said:
"I think the bigger issue is having one person or one party or one sect of a party redefine what being a person means."
For now Jones said she's not particularly worried about these two bills but the struggle between the two camps, who see eye to eye on next to nothing about abortion, continues.
"For us it's sort of the usual suspects legislation but our worst fear is that we could lose the senate next year and these bills could be enacted," Jones said.