Just over a week after Democrats regained control of Virginia’s Senate, they’re already focusing their energy on undoing some of the recent damage that’s been done to women’s health in the state. On Thursday, a Senate panel approved two bills intended to repeal some of the abortion restrictions enacted under former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) conservative administration.
During the height of the “War on Women” in 2012, Virginia became a somewhat of a battleground state, particularly when lawmakers pushed a controversial proposal to require women to undergo mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds before having an abortion. Opponents decried the measure as “state-sponsored rape,” and the national outcry led the the legislature to soften the wording of the bill. But the measure still passed, which means that women in Virginia are currently subject to an ultrasound procedure in an attempt to dissuade them from ending a pregnancy.
McDonnell approved several other measures to undermine women’s abortion access, including medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics and a ban on abortion coverage in Obamacare’s new insurance marketplaces.
But this past fall, Virginia’s closely-watched races resulted in several victories for Democrats, including the election of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and several new progressive senators. That’s tipped the balance in the legislature. So on Thursday, a committee of Senate members was able to advance SB 617 and SB 618 — two measures that would repeal the mandatory ultrasound law and the abortion insurance ban — to a full vote in the chamber.
“We are absolutely thrilled to see these critical women’s health bills advance to the full Senate,” Tarina Keene, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said 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.”
“Rather than putting up barriers to prevent women from accessing abortion services, legislators should focus on ensuring women are supported and able to access health care services no matter their situation,” ProgressVA’s executive director, Anna Scholl, added.
The measures don’t face much of a chance in the GOP-controlled House. Earlier this week, a House committee killed several similar measures from last session that sought to undo the same abortion restrictions.
Nonetheless, progressive lawmakers have signaled a renewed commitment to tackling issues of women’s health this year. Elected officials have begun to push for several sweeping packages of legislation to protect reproductive rights on a state level. And in U.S. Congress, a group of Democratic senators recently introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, the first piece of national legislation in nearly a decade that’s intended to expand — rather than undermine — abortion rights.
On February 11, Virginia’s Senate passed SB 617, the measure to repeal the state’s forced ultrasound law. “I am immensely proud of the Virginia Senate for taking the first step toward repealing this shameful law and returning personal medical decisions back to where they belong — between women, their families, and their doctors,” NARAL’s Keene said in a statement.