This year, Virginians have the chance to elect what people in the state have lacked for at least a decade: a pro-reproductive health majority.
This November, every seat in Virginia’s General Assembly is up for election: 100 in the House of Delegates, 40 in the state Senate. The majority party in each chamber only holds control by the narrowest of margins — which means that a few key victories could produce massive shifts in the state’s entire legislative agenda.
Anti-abortion politicians, aware of the enormous stakes in 2019’s elections, are using misinformation and fear in an attempt to energize their voters. But after the wave election of 2017 — when women ran, organized, and turned out in massive numbers, and pro-reproductive health candidates came up just one seat short of a majority in the House of Delegates — Virginians have a chance to elect a General Assembly led by champions of sexual and reproductive health.
Every seat matters
People in Virginia already know the massive difference an election can make in people’s lives. The women-led wave of 2017 made it possible to finally enact Medicaid expansion after years of political obstacles. Thanks to that political shift, 400,000 more Virginians now enjoy access to Medicaid — and 300,000 people have enrolled to receive affordable, possibly life-saving health care.
Reproductive health advocates in Virginia worked hard to help make Medicaid expansion possible in the commonwealth for one simple reason: Medicaid is the vital health-care program for women. The program is the largest payer of reproductive health-care coverage for people in the United States, and over half of adult enrollees are women.
The threat is real
For years, anti-reproductive health legislators in Virginia have tried to “defund” Planned Parenthood — a tactic that really means blocking patients who depend on public-health care funds, such as Medicaid, from getting care at Planned Parenthood health centers. Those anti-reproductive health politicians have one goal in mind: to shut down Planned Parenthood, in order to make safe, legal abortion harder to access.
When in power, anti-reproductive health politicians in Virginia have imposed burden after burden on access to safe, legal abortion — including a two-trip mandatory delay, state-mandated ultrasound tests, and targeted regulations of abortion providers designed to close health centers. Their approach makes pawns of people with low incomes, residents of rural areas, people of color, and others with disproportionately limited options for the care Planned Parenthood health centers provide.
With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and Trump in the White House, the ability to stop anti-abortion politicians in Virginia from imposing new burdens on access to care matters. Even before the November 2019 elections in Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court may rule on targeted regulations in Louisiana that could eliminate all but one remaining abortion provider in the state. With that ruling, Roe v. Wade would come a step closer to the chopping block — and anti-abortion politicians would be even more emboldened to attempt to end access to safe, legal abortion outright.
Virginians support safe, legal abortion
Poll after poll shows that attacks on reproductive health care are unpopular — and that Americans support Planned Parenthood. According to a recent Quinnipiac survey, 80% of voters nationwide reject policies that block patients who rely on Medicaid from accessing care at Planned Parenthood health centers.
What’s more: Virginians overwhelmingly support the right to safe, legal abortion. In a Quinnipiac poll in 2018, 85% of Virginians said they believe that abortion should remain legal.
Put simply, voters don’t approve of efforts to stop patients from receiving care at Planned Parenthood — or to undermine reproductive health-care services. In a 2017 PerryUndem poll, 57% of Trump voters said they opposed policies that would keep women from accessing sexual and reproductive health care and cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood.
Reproductive health champions in Virginia have fought to make state policies reflect public support for access to health care — but anti-abortion politicians, protected by gerrymandering, have kept enough seats in the the General Assembly to thwart these efforts. Bills to stop political interference between people and their doctors, to repeal medically unnecessary restrictions for women seeking access to safe and legal abortion, to protect Roe v. Wade in Virginia law, and to guarantee coverage for birth control without a copay, have been defeated — or prevented from even receiving a hearing.
Now is the time
With federal courts holding that the map that bolstered anti-abortion opponents in the House of Delegates — and intentionally suppressed African-American voting power in the commonwealth — was unlawful, Virginians have the greatest opportunity in years to unite, show their power, and elect a reproductive health majority that will fight for access to care.
The ramifications of this November’s elections could range well beyond reproductive health. Gun violence in the commonwealth is a public-health issue, with mass shootings claiming dozens of lives — including a dozen this year, in a May shooting in Virginia Beach. Yet state lawmakers have stonewalled gun-safety legislation — adjourning a July special legislative session to address gun violence after meeting for just 90 minutes.
Indeed, the outcome in November may resonate into national politics for 2020. Just as Virginia’s women-led wave in 2017 foreshadowed massive gains for women’s representation in Congress the following year, a victory that sends new reproductive-health champions to the General Assembly could show the momentum and rising power of voters who support access to reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion — and who refuse to have our majority silenced any longer.
As a Washington Post article suggested:
Many long-stymied … goals — to restrict guns, expand gay rights, loosen restrictions on abortion and raise the minimum wage, to name a few — would probably become law. … The results in Virginia — the only Southern state Trump lost in 2016 — will be viewed nationally as a bellwether for the 2020 presidential contest.
But that only happens if we show up, united — and elect champions to support, and protect, Virginians’ access to care.